Saturday, April 7, 2012

More problems with Ornge

This week it was learned that there could be a nasty side effect (no pun intended) to the scandals that have plagued Ornge, the air ambulance service.   Hamilton could lose on staff air traffic control.   Why?

It seems that the company that was contracted to do air ambulance services, and ended up being a petty cash fund for its senior executives at our expense, was supposed to use Hamilton's aerodrome, John Munro International Airport (YHM), for their operations in Southwestern Ontario.    In a nutshell, Ornge had pledged back in the fall of 2010 to move their operations there.   This would have increased the number of takeoffs and landings at YHM more than threefold.  And for an airport that has been struggling ever since Westjet moved its Ottawa and Montréal flights to Toronto's Pearson, it would have been a huge financial boom, with the city coffers getting a big royalty boost.

Instead, the number of flights has dropped steadily, from 3000 per month four years ago (and that's all aircraft -- commercial, private planes and helicopters) to only 1791 in February of this year.   Last month, it was 536.

Ornge was supposed to start flying out of Hamilton a year ago.    It hasn't yet (whether this is due to organizational issues with the flight equipment or with management, who knows), and it has paid more than $600,000 in rent to a hangar that has sat completely empty.    Is something wrong with this picture?

Perhaps it would have been better to have made the airport a non-profit corporation as was suggested more than a decade ago before the contract was given to a Vancouver company.    At this rate, if Hamilton doesn't meet minimum flights over a sustained period, NavCanada, the company spun off from the goverment some years ago to handle air traffic contral might decide that it's not worth keeping a staff at the airport and have a nearby airport -- say, Pearson -- do it instead.   This has major safety implications, especially given that geographic curiosity that slices Hamilton into upper and lower cities, the Niagara Escarpment.

Bottom line:  If a company promises to fill a hanger and it hasn't yet, shouldn't that company be found in breach of contract?   And if we lose the ATCs because of that, shouldn't the damages be that much higher?

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