Alistair Speaks on the Problems in the Air Transportation Industry

How Labour Shortages and Aircraft Noise Impacts Residents in Cowichan, Malahat, and Langford


Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford):

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the member for Kelowna—Lake Country for bringing forward this motion today.

Motion No. 177 would instruct the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to undertake a study of flight training schools in Canada, basically to identify the challenges they are facing in providing trained pilots to the industry but also to determine whether the infrastructure available to flight schools meets the needs of those schools and the communities they are located in, and to, hopefully, present its report no later than seven months from the adoption of this motion.

The 42nd Parliament does not have too much time left. We have three more weeks following this one before we go for Christmas, and then, of course, January to June. Therefore, I hope the committee is able to produce some recommendations, but it does not seem that it would leave much time for the government to act upon them.

I hope that the Minister of Transport, if he sees this as a worthwhile study, a worthwhile motion, pays attention to what the committee is doing. Maybe he can direct his officials in the ministry to pay attention to the witness testimony at that committee and preemptively act on some of the recommendations they hear from witnesses so that we do not need to wait for some of the significant recommendations.

I also want to take the time to recognize the member for Trois-Rivières, who has been doing great work on the transport file for our NDP caucus. He sits as the second vice-chair on the transport committee. During the first hour of debate on this motion, he offered some substantive commentary, and he has also been doing some great work in other areas. I was very pleased to see this member move an amendment that would add a study on the effects of noise pollution on public health, because that is often a recurring issue with flight schools, and that would have Transport Canada be more transparent in how it handles all the data collected.

During the course of that first hour of debate, the member for Kelowna—Lake Country seemed to indicate that he supported that amendment. I hope he will continue to honour that. Nevertheless, if Motion No. 177 does proceed to the transport committee as originally written, I am still sure that there is plenty of room within the original wording to hear from people who are concerned about some of the negative impacts flight training schools have.

Personally, I do not have much direct experience with airplanes other than being a member of Parliament who relies on Air Canada to get back to the amazing constituents of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. I try to do that every weekend. However, there was a time in my life when I had a job as a tree planter. I did that job for eight long years in the wilds of British Columbia. I often had to rely on the services of some amazing helicopter pilots who would not only carry our trees up to blocks that were almost above the cloud cover but who would also transport us, as tree planters, to get to our blocks.

The skill set of these pilots is really something to behold. For most of us, when we see a helicopter flying, it is usually from pretty level ground, where they take off nicely and go off into the distance. However, when we were flying in a helicopter in the mountains of British Columbia, these pilots, under adverse weather conditions, with low visibility, who were trying to place trees in a specific location, sometimes with a very badly drawn map and a full load of tree planters, would not only drop us in a precise location but, with the rotors going full blast, would just touch one of their landing rails on the side of a mountain while we all hopped off, while trying to get our equipment. Therefore, I can speak to the quality of the pilots this country produces.

I very much agree with the fact that if our flight training schools are producing that calibre of pilot, we certainly know that there is a great demand. I think we can be proud of the job our flight trainers do on behalf of this country.

In terms of the wording of the motion itself and what we are specifically looking for, we acknowledge that there is a worker and labour shortage. Communities are very much in danger of losing air transportation service, because private regional air carriers could curtail or even discontinue some regional connections. Of course, the main reason for this is a pilot shortage.

In terms of accessibility, many communities and remote areas need an air transportation service for medical and various other reasons. Studies show that air fares are far too high for regional markets. In fact, in February of this year, the NDP filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau to shed light on Air Canada's practices in the regions. The pilot shortage, I think, is going to drive up airfares and further restrict access to air service.

In the area of public health, which I have talked about, the repeated daily exposure to aircraft noise is a threat to the health of Canadians. We want the government to introduce more effective noise management measures for all airports, specifically those that have flight training schools, because the level of traffic is a lot higher. Instead of an aircraft taking off and going to its desired destination, flight training often takes place in a specific region that is revisited multiple times.

If we look at the statistics, they very much show the need explained in this motion. Forecasts indicate that the industry will need about 7,300 new pilots between now and 2025. Currently, fewer than 1,200 new licences are being issued each year, and nearly half of those, 45%, are going to international students. Whether or not we are going to retain their services in this country is a big open question. The source of those statistics is the Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace. Furthermore, the Air Transport Association of Canada expects there to be a shortage of 3,300 pilots by 2025, and Boeing has indicated that the global demand is expected to be 790,000 pilots over the next 20 years, double the current demand.

If I look at my own riding, and I am sure this is the same for a lot of members, over the last decade there has been an enormous increase in the number of low-flying training exercises over people's homes. It is an issue that I have become very well aware of as the local member of Parliament. Many residents are losing their wits.

I will read into the record some of the emails I have received from constituents. I have one from February 4, 2017, which states:

The last 10 years have been bad but the last 7 years got even worse since a farmer near us cleared his trees and made a hay field these planes found to be the perfect practice field for their touch and goes and stalling their engines, so when they have to full throttle out of these stalls and starts, that will cause excessive noise which is 10 times louder than when a plane just flies over us. It has ruined our quality of life here.... We feel that it is our right as taxpayers that this has to change as it is effecting our health, we both have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and it is elevated from this constant barrage of excessive noise from these airplanes.

Another email from October 3, 2018, states:

I can't even explain how bad this summer really was, 8 a.m. til 9 p.m. all day long, as they are here flying low-gunning their throttles over our homes to even make more purposeful noise. The thing that gets me is that they are still intentionally hitting us hard as they know that we are trying to fight them off. It was so bad trying to torture us up here that they are going to kill or injure another person....

Another one talks about how a constituent and his wife had to work, but they kept being woken up.

This is causing real pain and suffering to people. People who have bought homes in rural areas to enjoy the peaceful countryside are being bombarded by these constant manoeuvres.

I have raised this issue with the Minister of Transport. It is very much within the minister's powers to designate new airspace for flight training, and we have to look at the population growth in areas like Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. When class F airspace was designated decades ago, there were hardly any people living there, but the population has grown and now these flight manoeuvres go right over people's homes, often buzzing the tops of trees.

I hope the transport committee will look at the minister's power to designate new airspace. I acknowledge the importance of training new pilots, but at the same time, we have to look at the quality of life of the people on the ground to make sure they are not adversely affected by our efforts to meet this growing demand.

I am happy to vote in favour of this motion.