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Pearson airport agency forms panel to probe ground-stop decision

Passengers line up to check in for Sun Wing flights at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Jan. 8, 2013.

DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The agency that manages Canada's busiest airport has struck a special committee of the board to conduct a wide-ranging review into the stranding of thousands of travellers at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Vijay Kanwar, chairman of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, said the committee's mandate is to "get to the bottom" of events surrounding last week's ground stop, which halted the arrival of North American flights to Pearson for several hours and contributed to chaos at the airport.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the GTAA declared the ground halt nine days ago, Mr. Kanwar said the board wants to ensure that the disruptions at Pearson during last week's deep freeze never happen again.

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He witnessed the crisis firsthand during a visit to the airport.

"There's no doubt the passengers at Pearson suffered, and we apologize for that," he said in an interview on Wednesday.

The committee will conclude its work within 90 days and share its findings with the public. It was set up last Sunday at a special meeting of the board.

"I assessed the situation, and said, 'It's time to be accountable to the public and the government,' " Mr. Kanwar said.

He broke his silence the same day Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne added her voice to those of municipal leaders calling for changes to the governance structure of the GTAA.

Ms. Wynne suggested in response to questions from reporters that it might be time to look at the makeup of the board.

"I think that there have been some incidents in the last couple of weeks that raise questions," she said, "and we'll pay attention to that."

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The board of the GTAA enjoys unusual autonomy. The federal government turned over management of Canada's airports to regional agencies two decades ago. The GTAA was incorporated in 1993 as a private, not-for-profit agency to operate airports within the south-central Ontario region on a commercial basis.

The goal was to have the GTAA represent the communities it serves. But municipal leaders have no say in its governance. While municipalities surrounding Pearson can nominate candidates for board positions, the board itself chooses the new members. This does not apply to the federal and Ontario governments, which together appoint three of the 15 directors.

The bylaws governing the board were set by the federal government, Mr. Kanwar said when asked if he would be open to changes.

Pearson, he said, is not just an airport. "It's an economic engine. We want whatever is the best for this board."

During last week's frigid weather, Mr. Kanwar said he was in constant contact by telephone with GTAA chief executive officer Howard Eng, getting updates on the disruptions at the airport.

Management at the GTAA is also reviewing the events at Pearson. An ad hoc, five-member committee of the board, including one with airport management expertise, will also study the situation and the recommendations made by management. The committee will carry out its review with the help of international aviation experts, Mr. Kanwar said.

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"If the committee thinks it needs more expert opinions, it has the freedom to bring them in," he said.

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About the Authors

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

Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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