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Toronto’s airport can't handle severe weather: report

The agency that manages Canada's busiest airport is vowing to improve its communication with travellers and expand its emergency operation systems to ensure that passenger well-being is a priority.

Pearson International Airport is not prepared to handle severe winter weather, concludes a report released Thursday that examines its response to a deep freeze in January. The report outlines a litany of problems, from inadequate equipment and a lack of procedures to handle baggage to no timely updates on its website on the status of flights for travellers. Airport staff did not even offer travellers amenities, including diapers, that are supposed to be available during a severe disruption in operations, the report says.

The release of the wide-ranging review comes three months after thousands of passengers were stranded at Toronto's Pearson airport. Vijay Kanwar, chairman of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority struck a special committee of the board to "get to the bottom" of events surrounding a ground stop during a deep freeze in January. The ground stop, instituted at 11 p.m. On Jan. 6, halted the arrival of North American flights to Pearson for several hours and contributed to chaos at the airport‎, where travellers were stuck for hours while the agency's chief executive officer, Howard Eng, remained silent for much of the crisis.

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The 80-page report makes a dozen recommendations on how the airport can improve its operations during severe winter weather. These include:

  • Establish clear early-warning procedures to ensure that the GTAA responds in a timely manner to large-scale service disruptions.
  • Expand and better equip the Emergency Operations Centre to improve coordination among airport service providers.
  • Secure additional equipment, including icebreaking machines to remove compacted snow and ice on airfield surfaces.
  • Set up warming stations to protect ground crews working outdoors.
  • Improve communications with airlines and other airport service providers to ensure that information flows in a “clear, consistent and accurate” manner. “These improvements will identify who is responsible for communicating with passengers under which circumstances, and when and how information will be communicated,” the report says.
  • Create an “Airport Update” website and improve Pearson’s WiFi and cellular capacity to better communicate with passengers and airport employees.
  • Develop and publish guidelines for responding to passengers’ needs, including distributing water, diapers and other amenities, keeping retail concessions open longer hours and allowing travellers to line up for taxis and limousines inside airport terminals.

"The public expects and deserves the safest and most efficient airport experience possible," the report says.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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