Decision No. 637-A-1991

December 31, 1991

December 31, 1991

IN THE MATTER OF Order Nos. 1991-A-340 and 1991-A-341 which required Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International Ltd. carrying on business under the firm name and style of either Canadian Airlines International or Canadi*n, to show cause why their safety briefing material should not be provided in audio cassette.

File No. D 2315-5


BACKGROUND

On June 25, 1991, the National Transportation Agency (hereinafter the Agency) rendered its decision on an application by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (hereinafter CNIB) requesting an investigation into the inequities of service (in the area of passenger safety) to persons with a visual impairment.

By Decision No. 209-A-1991 and Order Nos. 1991-A-340 and 1991-A-341, the Agency ordered both Air Canada and Canadian Airlines International Ltd. carrying on business under the firm name and style of either Canadian Airlines International or Canadi*n (hereinafter Canadi*n) effective August 1, 1992 to provide on each aircraft a reasonable number of copies of its safety briefing material in both braille and large print in addition to the personal safety briefing provided to passengers with a visual impairment.

Although the carriers had been requested by the Agency to comment on the provision of this information in the three formats, audio cassette in addition to the braille and large print, they had not done so during the pleadings. The carriers were therefore ordered to show cause within thirty (30) days of the date of the orders why this same safety briefing material should not also be provided in audio cassette commencing August 1, 1992.

The comments of the carriers were received and these were served on the CNIB and Transport Canada who were given an opportunity to reply thereto.

POSITION OF THE CARRIERS

The carriers submitted that the provision of safety briefing material in audio cassette format could be done in two ways: through the on-board audio system or by providing the passenger with a cassette player.

Both Air Canada and Canadi*n raised similar arguments against the audio cassette format.

* The Company's symbol appears between the "i" and the "n" in the trade name.

Firstly, only a small percentage of the domestic fleet of either carrier is equipped with fixed audio systems. DC 9's which comprise 35% of the Air Canada fleet and which are mainly used for the domestic routes, are not equipped with fixed audio systems. Canadi*n, on the other hand, uses 737's for its domestic operations, and only 22 out of 53 are equipped with entertainment systems. Both carriers submit that persons with a visual impairment travelling within Canada could not count on the consistent provision of service via the on-board system.

Both carriers submitted that the entertainment system (i.e. on-board audio-system) is for the benefit of all passengers. Given that the number of channels available is limited, the reduction of this number to provide a briefing information channel would subtract the availability of that channel from all passengers including those with a visual impairment. It was suggested that a person who is blind and a person with a visual impairment have as great a need for audio entertainment during a long flight as the sighted person does.

It was submitted that an on-board system would not have playback or seeking capability. Unlike the safety card, where a passenger can study a depiction as long as necessary, a person with a visual impairment would have to listen to the whole tape to hear the one portion it was interested in.

With respect to the costs, both carriers submitted that the programming and maintenance of audio programs is costly. Air Canada estimated that the production of a four minute audio program would be in the order of $20,000. This cost would recur whenever reprogramming is required. This would also be multiplied by the development of aircraft specific programs.

With regard to providing the information via cassette player, the carriers presented concerns with respect to safety. Individual cassette players would be "a piece of unsecured equipment", allowing passengers to wear earphones during take off and landing impeding the wearer from hearing oral instructions from the crew during an emergency. As passengers would be listening to safety information during the flight, the crew would be unable to override earphones to transmit safety information such as unexpected turbulence. The cords could also cause an obstacle to the evacuation route.

Secondary to the safety issue, Air Canada submitted that the costs associated with the acquisition of approximately 100 cassette players are equally important. This cost is estimated at $25,000 with no replacement factored in.

In conclusion, the carriers submitted that the use of on-board systems or the provision of cassette players would not be practical nor cost effective. It was also submitted that the safety of the passenger is most important, and that the Agency should consult with the Passenger Safety Department of Transport Canada before issuing an order to provide safety material in audio cassette format.

POSITION OF CNIB

CNIB was provided with copies of the responses of the carriers. It responded to the Agency that, while it does not have the technical expertise to comment further on the response of both carriers concerning the use of the audio entertainment channel, it agrees with the air carriers that the provision of an audio cassette player would be logistically difficult.

CNIB submitted, however, that it prefers not to close the door to an audio safety message, particularly as aircraft design and technology advances.

POSITION OF TRANSPORT CANADA

In its comments, Transport Canada supports the concerns of the carriers from a safety perspective. Specifically, Transport Canada does not accept an air carrier procedure which would permit headsets to be available to passengers during the taxi, take-off and landing phases of flight as this would result in an unacceptable reduction in the level of safety afforded to passengers. Similarly, portable tape players should not be made available during those phases of flight as this would interfere with emergency announcements. This, combined with the requirement to determine whether non-transmitting portable electronic devices would interfere with navigation equipment, raises serious safety concerns with Transport Canada.

Additionally, Transport Canada notes that the variances in aircraft design seriously limits the possibility of developing a generic tape.

Transport Canada notes that the safety briefing is considered sufficiently important that a requirement for its provision has been included in a Transport Canada regulatory proposal. Transport Canada does not consider the audio cassette to be a viable vehicle to provide this briefing and suggest that the current verbal safety briefing, together with the braille and large print safety information cards which are now carried by Air Canada and Canadi*n provide an effective way of ensuring that passengers with a visual impairment receive the appropriate safety information. This information is also available for reference throughout the flight.

ANALYSIS

The Agency has reviewed the submissions of the parties. The Agency notes the comments of the carriers regarding the two methods of providing an audio safety briefing, i.e fixed on-board system or audio cassette players. The Agency also notes the comments of the carriers that the logistics, safety and cost considerations present major difficulties for the carriers to provide an accurate and available safety briefing in audio cassette format at this time.

Moreover, Transport Canada agrees with the safety concerns raised by the carriers. Specifically, there are serious safety concerns regarding the use of unsecured equipment during take-off and landing and the concern of persons using portable cassette players at a time when it may be necessary for staff to communicate an emergency message.

The carriers argued that the costs and the problems associated with the task of providing the safety briefings are such that it should not be done and also submitted that the need for it has not been proven.

One of the concerns of the Agency was that the information "gap" in which travellers with a visual impairment are placed was creating an undue obstacle. It is noted, however, that the applicant did not address the audio cassette format in its original submission but only asked for braille and large print. On the issue of safety briefing material, in all three formats, the Agency was of the view that the point should be further discussed.

Based on the evidence in this matter and also given the technology available at this time, the task of providing safety information in audio-cassette format is not practical.

The Agency, nevertheless, notes that the CNIB has indicated that it prefers not to close the door to audio-safety messages. In this respect, the Agency is developing regulations on communication of information to persons with a disability. In the context of the development of these regulations, which will apply to all carriers, the need for all three mediums will be addressed.

CONCLUSION

In consideration of the facts and submissions presented, the Agency is of the opinion that it is neither practical nor beneficial to order Air Canada and Canadi*n to provide safety briefing material in audio cassette format at this time.

Therefore, the Agency has determined that Canadi*n and Air Canada have provided sufficient justification as to why they should not be required to provide safety briefing material in audio cassette format. Accordingly, the Agency will not, at this time, order the carriers to provide safety briefing in audio cassette format.

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