News provided by the National Post
Air Georgian has strenuously denied allegations of safety shortcomings by current and former employees, first reported by the National Post
Air Canada has ended its contract with regional carrier Air Georgian and is shifting thousands of flights to another company, but denies that concerns about Georgian’s maintenance and safety practices had anything to do with the change.
The move will not be readily visible to passengers, as all the planes fly under the Air Canada Express banner, but appears to be a significant blow to privately owned Air Georgian.
It has strenuously denied allegations of safety shortcomings by current and former employees — first reported by the National Post — and criticized a Transportation Safety Board report that highlighted systemic problems at the airline.
The firm currently provides 62,000 flights a year for Air Canada, carrying 1.5 million passengers on short-haul trips within this country and the U.S., part of a little-known trend where large, “mainline” airlines contract out regional service.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the transition from Georgian to Jazz Aviation was unrelated to the allegations.
“Air Georgian has performed safely and reliably for us for 20 years,” he told the Post via email. “The changes to our regional flying are purely a commercial decision.”
Georgian is proud to be one of nine Canadian airlines certified by the international airline association’s rigorous, 900-point operational safety audit, said Matthew Law, a lawyer for the company.
“Safety is the cornerstone of Air Georgian’s business,” he said in a letter emailed to the Post. “Air Georgian has consistently achieved audit results that place it in the top tier of operators in Canada.”
If the Post publishes “unfounded speculation” about the company, “Air Georgian will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action,” Law warned.
The company said it does not expect the loss of this single contract to negatively impact its long-term business growth. “We are very well positioned in the marketplace, with a 25 year track record of superior safety, operational, and financial performance.”
A National Post investigation in late 2017 reported the concerns of several current and former crew members about Georgian’s safety approach, including allegations that it delayed fixing defective plane parts, discouraged reporting of problems and experienced an unusual number of emergency landings.
In a report last spring, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) blamed a 2016 incident in Calgary — where a plane’s front landing gear failed to extend and the aircraft scraped along the runway — on longstanding failings, including inadequate maintenance procedures and training and internal systems that failed to detect potential maintenance problems.
John Lee, the board’s Western regional manager, refuted Georgian’s contention at the time that the report dealt solely with one, narrow maintenance issue. “The system that didn’t catch that lubrication task is the same system that oversees other, maybe more serious maintenance activities as well,” he told the Post.
But in an internal memo, Georgian said the TSB’s investigator showed bias, bullied employees and acted insensitively toward staff whose first language was not English. And it has called the allegations of current and former employees false and in some cases motivated by revenge.
Most large legacy airlines in North America now contract out many of their shorter routes to other companies under “capacity purchase agreements” that are generally considered a way to limit costs.
Fitzpatrick said Air Canada is “ending its capacity purchase agreement“ with Georgian to “simplify and modernize our regional fleet, including a shift to larger aircraft, and to improve customer service and to enable us to compete better.”
Air Canada’s shift away from the Toronto-based firm has occurred discreetly, its news release about an expanded accord with Jazz not even mentioning Georgian. As of Thursday, Georgian’s website — devoted almost exclusively to its role as a “proud partner” of Air Canada — said nothing about the loss of business.
The only public hint came from a pilots’ union release last month about a new Jazz collective agreement, which noted Jazz has expanded its Air Canada work and taken over several leased jets from Georgian.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) represents both companies’ aviators and said Air Georgian pilots would be absorbed by Jazz.
“By joining Jazz, Air Georgian pilots’ career paths will be enhanced significantly through better wages and working conditions,” Jim Macarthur, ALPA’s Air Georgian chair, said in a news release.
An internal Georgian memo posted on the Avcanada.ca website indicates that flight attendants, mechanics and other employees will also be able to move to either Jazz, Air Canada or Air Canada Rouge.
One poster on an Avcanada forum said Georgian employees, earning some of the lowest wages in the industry, had ironically “won the lottery,” even as their company lost its primary source of business.
As part of the change, Air Canada is also investing $97 million in Jazz parent Chorus Aviation.
In the wake of the Post’s investigation, Georgian filed a $10-million libel lawsuit against a former pilot for the company who spoke to the Post. That pilot, Alan Eugeni, has now filed a “SLAPP” (strategic litigation against public participation) motion asking a Toronto court to throw out the suit against him.
Georgian’s lawsuit, filed last March, charges that Eugeni’s self-published book about his two years at Georgian — called The Next Plane Crash — was “replete with false and defamatory statements” about the airline and damaged the business, partly by making it harder to recruit and retain staff.
But the motion prepared by Toronto lawyer Howard Winkler says the suit — which also cited quotes Eugeni gave to the Post — was designed to “silence, intimidate and punish” the pilot, and will deter other employees from speaking out about safety issues at regional carriers.
“This is a serious concern given the lack of applicable whistleblower legislation in Canada for airline personnel,” says the document, filed under a 2015 Ontario law designed to counter so-called libel chill.