Canadian air controllers down US transatlantic flights

As flight to Europe from the Northeastern United States were hit by the Canadian air controllers' intervention in the dispute raging south of their border, the government in Ottawa threatened legal action against them.

The government would "examine every legal avenue open to us" to prosecute leaders of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association (CATCA), who have advised members to stop handling flights to and from the United States, said Transport Minister Jean-Luc Pepin.

He declared Aug. 10 that Canadian air controllers were incompetent to determine whether US air space is unsafe, as CATCA has contended.

Earlier, CATCA leaders met Aug. 9 in Ottawa and advised Canadian controllers to boycott US flight as of 7 a.m. EDT Aug. 10. "It is hoped this action will isolate out skies from the amateurish attempts in the US to run an air traffic control system and restore a superior level of safety for air travelers in Canada," said Bill robertson, CATCA president. Mr. Robertson now faces the possibility of a $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail.

About 60 percent of the daily flights between Canada and the United States were grounded by mid-morning Monday. By early afternoon, all transatlantic flights out of New York's Kennedy Airport had been canceled, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration. FAA spokesman Norbert Owens told an Aug. 10 news conference that it was the refusal of controllers at two Canadian centers, Moncton and Gander, to handle US traffic through their airspace that meant that the flights could not leave for Europe.

A Transport Canada official said "a number" of controllers who refused to handle US flights had been sent home without pay and ordered to return to work Aug. 11.

CATCA said it has documented 41 cases of potentially dangerous air incidents on or near the Canada-US border since the US strike began. Mr. Pepin said his department had examined each case and found all were "grossly exaggerated and [ they] certainly do not indicate the sytem is unsafe."

The Canadian Air Line Pilot's Association (CALPA) also believes the US system is "working very well at this reduced capacity," according to its president, rollie cook. Mr. Cook said Aug. 10 that the 41 incidents were "totally unsubstantiated."

Mr. Cook said Canadian pilots have not reported any such incidents despite CALPA notices on all pilots' notice boards requesting that any such information be forwarded to CALPA.

"For everything we have seen, the integrity of the system is intact," Mr. Cook said.

Mr. Pepin said the Canadian government was acting on a point of principle in refusing to recognize the air controllers' competency to determine whether foreign air space was safe. He argued that Canada could in turn be subjected to a similar boycott. Mr. Pepin said the Canadian government was prepared to shut down the Canadian air system to defend this principle.

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