Regulators knowingly allowed an insolvent Canadian airline to continue selling tickets for months before it collapsed, says an advocacy group. Air Passenger Rights released whistleblower emails to Transport Canada that warned of financial difficulties at SkyGreece Airlines two months before the company abruptly cancelled pre-paid flights.
“It was a warning to Transport Canada about serious shortcomings, both in terms of safety and finances, yet is seems no action was taken,” said Dr. Gábor Lukács, Passenger Rights advocate. “To my knowledge Transport Canada did not respond.”
The department did not comment. Lukács published correspondence from an accredited SkyGreece pilot, complete with company identification, that was sent to seven civil aviation inspectors and enforcement investigators at Transport Canada on June 16. “At best the airline is farcical, operating on a shoestring budget, and at worst mismanaged chaos with the potential for tragedy,” the whistleblower wrote.
The airline grounded flights on August 17 and applied for bankruptcy protection from creditors on September 3. Travellers are still owed hundreds of thousands in refunds for pre-paid tickets, and compensation after being stranded by SkyGreece’s collapse.
In the whistleblower email, Transport Canada inspectors were told the company had trouble paying its fuel bills; that crew had quit over unpaid wages dating from as early as May; that replacement crew were inadequately trained; and that SkyGreece has “the worst onboard storage of charts, approach plates and documents I have witnessed in over thirty years’ flying.”
“SkyGreece requires further and more detailed examination by your authority,” wrote the Boeing 747 pilot, who provided his name and contact information. “Please contact me if you require additional information.”
Lukács said the whistleblower provided Air Passenger Rights with records of correspondence following the airline’s bankruptcy. “This email was sent two and-a-half months before SkyGreece became insolvent,” said Lukács.
“I am working to find out if any actions were taken to investigate his very serious complaints,” he said. “One is left wondering whether the financial aspects of the information was transmitted to the Canadian Transportation Agency – and if not, why not.”
The Agency’s initial response to the SkyGreece grounding was to publish a terse website notice advising stranded customers to contact their travel agents. The airline had offered service from Montréal and Toronto to Athens, Thessaloniki, Budapest and Zagreb.
Regulators yesterday concluded SkyGreece violated Air Transportation Regulations in failing to compensate travellers, but concluded further investigation was moot since the airline was bankrupt. The Agency only initiated its investigation September 2, more than two weeks after flights were grounded, when it was petitioned by Lukács to enforce regulations.
“The real issue is how this situation was created,” he said. “I maintain the Agency was too slow to act when I filed my complaint; moreover, it is quite possible that they could have acted months earlier.”
SkyGreece was launched in 2014 by Montréal-area investors with Air Omega Holidays Inc. Lukács earlier criticized the Agency as “useless”, noting regulators might have acted to secure the airline’s main asset – a Boeing 767 grounded in Toronto – to finance compensation for clients.
By Dale Smith