Smoothing Air Travel Between US and Canada

JAMES BLANCHARD, the United States ambassador to Canada, tells of flying to an American city recently in a noisy, small, propeller-driven airplane. ``This is a very bad thing when you're flying between major cities in the US and Canada and you've got to land your plane out on the runway and walk through the snow because the plane is too small to fit a gate,'' he says.

Ambassador Blanchard, a former governor and congressman from Michigan, was in Boston this week to talk to the New England Canada Business Council about the economic relationship between the two countries. One of his goals as ambassador, he said, is to reach a new US/Canada bilateral air agreement.

``It's crazy not to be able to capitalize on the potential for tourism, not to mention NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement], not to mention just getting back and forth,'' Blanchard said. ``We've got to come out of the last century of air travel.'' Not only is transborder travel inconvenient, it is also expensive. A roundtrip ticket from Ottawa to Boston is $510.

The present air agreement was written in the early 1960s, Blanchard said, and although the two governments have tried to change it 13 times, they have been unsuccessful. Canada has objected to letting American carriers into the country out of concern that they would dominate the market.

There has been a lot of ``fingerpointing and excuses, but basically the airlines on both sides didn't want it and our governments have relied too much on the airlines,'' Blanchard said. ``We haven't looked at what's good for consumers, passengers, communities, and airports. If you do that, you'll find that there's no excuse not to change this.''

Blanchard has helped foster discussions on a new bilateral air relationship. In the past, the process has gone nowhere, he said, and a decision will have to come from the top: from the president, prime minister, and secretaries of transportation.

Blanchard stressed the great need for the US and Canada to foster a more sophisticated understanding of each other. The US has a $213 billion trade relationship with Canada, he said, which climbed about 33 percent over the last six years under the free trade agreement, despite the fact that both economies were in a recession. In Canada, 80 percent of exports are to the US.

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