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Transportation agency orders hearing into Air Transat tarmac delays

OTTAWA — Air Transat’s president has taken aim at the Liberal government’s proposed passenger bill of rights, writing that the legislation may unfairly punish airlines for delays that spiral out of control.Jean-Francois Lemay made the comment in a response last week to the Canadian Transportation Agency about an incident July 31 in which two Air Transat planes sat for hours on an Ottawa tarmac.The agency said Wednesday that it plans to hold a public hearing at the end of this month about the incident, noting in a release that broader talks about how the airline industry must respond to tarmac delays will be dealt with after Parliament approves the Liberal bill.The Liberals plan to pass their bill, known as C-49, before the end of the year with hearings on the legislation set to begin in early September even before the House of Commons officially resumes sitting after its summer break.Lemay’s letter to the agency suggested that what went wrong in Ottawa just over a week ago shows the Liberals must force airports to “provide critical infrastructure and related operational ground support in a timely manner” if the government intends to place new obligations on airlines.“Indeed, as we have clearly seen in this case, the tendency is to focus solely on the actions of the airline,” Lemay wrote in the letter released by the agency.“This must not be the basis for informed legislation going forward.”In a statement, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the planned passenger rights regime would create “clear and fair standards” for how airline passengers have to be treated in cases of long delays on the tarmac, overbooking, cancellations or lost or damaged baggage.“When passengers buy an airline ticket, they expect and deserve that the airline will respect its agreement with them,” he said. “When the terms of that agreement are not met, passengers should know their rights and be entitled to compensation where appropriate.“There should be a certain minimum standard of treatment when things do not go as planned.”Things appeared to go awry last week when storms forced two Montreal-bound two Air Transat flights, one from Rome, the other from Brussels, to land in Ottawa on July 31, along with several other flights that had to be rerouted.Air Transat and the Ottawa airport have blamed each other for what followed, which was an hours-long wait on the tarmac, during which one passenger aboard the Brussels flight dialled 911 to get help. Lemay’s letter blames the airport for failing to refuel the Brussels plane — which would have let kept the air conditioning on — and a deluge of rerouted flights that clogged available gates.The flight attendants on both planes offered whatever drinks they had left to passengers stuck on the plane, Lemay wrote, but what was left after the transatlantic flights was quickly exhausted as temperatures in the cabins crept up.Eventually, the two planes were refuelled, with the Rome flight taking off four hours after landing in Ottawa and the Brussels flight taking two more hours to leave because of problems starting the engines.Lemay argued that during the whole ordeal, some of which played out on social media, there was no way to get passengers off the planes safely.The agency said it will hold a hearing in Ottawa Aug. 30 and 31 after it collects written and verbal submissions from anyone directly involved, or affected by the incidents. Interested individuals or organizations can contact the inquiry officer at inquiry@otc-cta.gc.ca.Air Transat has said it welcomes the agency’s inquiry. read more

Securing crop biodiversity is key to feeding worlds growing population – UN

“As the world’s population grows and continues to face a wide range of climate, environmental and other challenges, maintaining a healthy variety of seeds and other plant genetic resources for the benefit of people in all countries will be essential to keeping agricultural and food systems sustainable and resilient, generation after generation,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Assistant Director-General Ren Wang said.The FAO publication,Genebank Standards for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, outlines voluntary, international standards for the many repositories – or genebanks – around the world that store seeds and other materials used to reproduce plants, as well as for living plants in the field. More than 7 million samples of seeds, tissues and other plant-propagating materials from food crops, along with their wild relatives, are safeguarded in about 1,750 genebanks.“Plant genetic resources are a strategic resource at the heart of sustainable crop production,” Mr. Ren writes in a foreword. “Their efficient conservation and use is critical to safeguard food and nutrition security, now and in the future. Meeting this challenge will require a continued stream of improved crops and varieties adapted to particular agro-ecosystem conditions. “The loss of genetic diversity reduces the options for sustainably managing resilient agriculture, in the face of adverse environments, and rapidly fluctuating meteorological conditions.”The standards are designed to guide users in implementing the most appropriate technologies and procedures for the collection, conservation and documentation of crop diversity. Their wide application also supports research that could stem the loss of biodiversity and boost sustainability in agriculture, both necessary for feeding the world’s burgeoning population.“Genebanks help bridge the past and the future by ensuring the continued availability of plant genetic resources for research and for breeding new varieties that meet the consumers’ continually evolving needs and a changing climate,” said Linda Collette, Secretary of FAO’s Intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.“They help us to conserve plant genetic resources and to improve them; they also help countries to share and exchange genetic resources with each other.” The standards address a wide range of issues, including techniques for collecting samples; consistent labelling; protection from fungi, bacteria, pests and physical stress factors; viability and genetic integrity testing; and, developing strategies for the rapid multiplication of samples for distribution.The world’s genebanks differ greatly in the size of their collections and the human and financial resources at their disposal. The Standards will help genebank managers strike a balance between scientific objectives, resources available, and the objective conditions under which they work, FAO says.“Genebanks play a key role in the conservation, availability and use of a wide range of plant genetic diversity for crop improvement for food and nutrition security,” the publication stresses in its preface. “An efficient management of genebanks through application of standards and procedures is essential for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.”FAO experts consulted with a wide range of partners, including those at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global partnership whose research is carried out at 15 centres worldwide, in particular Bioversity International; genebank managers; relevant academic and research institutions; and national focal points for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. read more