Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Air Transat vice-president of corporate affairs Christophe Hennebelle speaks with the media outside Canadian Transportation agency hearings, Thursday, in Ottawa.

Pilot of Air Transat flight tells hearing tarmac delay was lesser of two evils

OTTAWA — The captain of one of two Air Transat flights that was forced to sit for hours on a sweltering Ottawa tarmac last month said Thursday he considered keeping passengers aboard the delayed aircraft to be the lesser of two evils.

Allowing passengers to disembark would have only made additional delays more likely, as opposed to the 30 minutes he was repeatedly being told it would take to refuel, Yves Saint-Laurent told Canadian Transportation Agency hearings in Ottawa.

What’s more, it would have taken additional hours to get everyone off the plane and then find a fleet of buses to transport them to a hotel for the night or to Montreal, the plane’s ultimate destination.

Denis Lussier, who was piloting the other flight, said he, too, was repeatedly told the wait to refuel would only be 30 minutes more. Both pilots cited a series of circumstances beyond their control — other planes jumping the refuelling queue, as well as delays getting and connecting external power generators — that only made matters worse.

Saint-Laurent said he would have made different decisions had he known the delay would last more than three hours. Nonetheless, he said, most passengers expressed their gratitude to him after they arrived in Montreal.

“The next day, I saw what I would call the media circus,” Saint-Laurent told the hearing.

“I was shocked, surprised because I would say that most of the passengers who left the aircraft in Montreal that night said, ‘Thank you.’”

Saint-Laurent then paused for several seconds, before quietly saying he had nothing more to add.

Thursday’s testimony was the finale of two days of hearings to determine why the two flights — one from Rome, the other from Brussels — sat on the tarmac for almost five and six hours, respectively, with passengers not allowed to disembark.

On Wednesday, a number of people who were on board the planes testified that they would have given anything to be allowed off the planes, even if it meant additional delays or a two-hour drive back to Montreal.

One of the two international flights ran out of fuel during the hours-long delay, then lost power, causing the air conditioning system to shut down.

The ensuing heat soon led to mounting tensions, a child throwing up on board and — ultimately — a 911 call from a passenger on the Brussels flight.

“When the first responder came to the door and asked me if there was an emergency, I actually thought there was an emergency on another aircraft,” said Igor Mazalica, flight director aboard the Brussels plane.

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