Obstruction annoys Air Canada head
NICHOLAS IONIDES in Vancouver
Air Canada's newly appointed president and chief executive officer, Lamar Durrett, has hit out at the Canadian Government for not allowing the airline more flights to Hong Kong.
Mr Durrett, in his first interview with an Asian publication, accused authorities of protecting competitor Canadian Airlines by their refusal to allow Air Canada to expand its four flights a week to daily services.
The refusal ironically benefited Cathay Pacific Airways, he said.
'This summer Cathay will have 23 frequencies into Canada and between the two international airlines here we'll have only 13,' Mr Durrett said.
'Canadian Airlines can increase [services] as they desire but we're limited to four by the bilateral agreement [with Hong Kong].
'We feel there's some protectionism there for our competitor, but the thing is Cathay is the one that's benefiting.' Cathay and Canadian offer daily services between Vancouver and Hong Kong, with Cathay set to increase its Vancouver services to twice daily from September through the addition of a stopover on its new Hong Kong-New York route.
Cathay and Canadian also fly between Toronto and Hong Kong.
Mr Durrett said the Canadian Government had given no clear reason why it would not allow Air Canada to increase its services except to say that new negotiations with the territory were not expected until the new Chek Lap Kok airport was opened in April 1998.
He added that the existing air services agreement with Hong Kong allowed for Canadian authorities to request new negotiations if there was a change in circumstances.
A formal request to reopen talks was made by Air Canada to Ottawa three months ago but no moves have yet been made by Canadian authorities.
'We feel there has been a change in circumstances,' Mr Durrett said, referring to Cathay's increase in flights to Vancouver.
'We'd like to see this renegotiated before the change in sovereignty in Hong Kong.' Canadian Ministry of Transport officials had indicated only that they expected it would be possible to conduct negotiations when the new airport opened in 1998, Mr Durrett said.
'As of yet, Canada has not agreed to approach Hong Kong. But we are not taking 'no' as the final answer. Hong Kong is our number one priority right now and we're going to keep the pressure up.' Air Canada's criticism of Canadian transport authorities began even before the company started flying to Hong Kong in December.
In March last year the country's largest carrier was granted immediate approval to join Canadian Airlines and Cathay on the busy route and a launch was planned for last July - during the peak season for travel on the route.
Three hard-to-come-by slots were found at the busy Kai Tak airport for the summer period but they had to be given up two weeks later when Ottawa imposed a nine-month restriction before services could start.
The restriction, which allowed the airline to operate only three times a week from December last year and four times a week from April this year, angered employees who wanted more trans-Pacific flights where the most money is to be made.
Mr Durrett said that after a slow start the service was doing well, with flights 85 per cent full last month and 90 per cent booked this month.
Cargo was also doing well, he said.
Unlike Cathay and Canadian, which both use Boeing 747-400 passenger aircraft with about 400 seats, Air Canada flies 747-400 Combis which have 299 seats and increased cargo space.
'The two Canadian carriers are going to have half the frequencies of the foreign carrier and Air Canada is willing and able to increase as soon as we are allowed to,' Mr Durrett said.
'Why should we be denied?' he said.