INSIGHT-Is the public kept in the dark about Canadian air safety issues?

Thu Aug 20, 2015 1:00am EDT
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO Aug 20 (Reuters) - Regulators threatened to ground Canada's Porter Airlines over safety problems in 2008, according to documents reviewed by Reuters, but the matter was kept secret for years - a sign, some critics say, of how little the public is told about the safety of Canadian airlines.

The documents, prepared by staff at the federal transport regulator, show that in early October that year, Canadian government inspectors scored Porter at only two on a scale of one to five, where five is best and three indicates compliance. The threat was first reported in the Canadian media in 2011 but the score and some of the reasons for it have not been previously disclosed.

Reuters got access to the documents in June from Transport Canada, the nation's main transport regulator, under Canada's Access to Information Act.

Porter had fought for years to prevent Transport Canada from releasing them in the face of media applications filed under that law. And while a court ruled against Canada's No. 3 airline in 2014, the judge still allowed the documents to be heavily redacted by Transport Canada, meaning that many details are blacked out.

Porter did not have to suspend flights, and was able to satisfy the regulator within two months that it had dealt with its most serious problems.

But the secrecy surrounding the episode has prompted safety advocates to warn that Transport Canada and Canadian airlines are keeping the public in the dark about safety questions.

Transport Canada said in response to questions from Reuters that it has to balance transparency against privacy laws. It said in a statement that it felt no need to make the warning to Porter public, and that in the end it was satisfied with the airline's corrective measures.

"The decision to make a notice of suspension public is made on a case-by-case basis, and is not taken lightly," it said.   Continued...