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Travelers wait in line for WestJet at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ont., on July 2, 2022.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Pearson International Airport is levying fines on baggage-handling companies that cause delays at Canada’s largest aviation hub.

Contractors are penalized, under a policy enacted in April, if they fail to have crews ready to work when planes arrive or prepare for departure, or do not have the required tractors, carts or other equipment.

Deborah Flint, chief executive of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Toronto Pearson, said the penalties are part of a new “posture and culture change” that is intolerant of poor or ill-prepared service providers. Airport officials are closely monitoring the readiness of the contactors, and have issued a so-called Pearson standard that outlines the requirements to hold licences at the airport.

“We want certainty … that can allow us to better plan and hold partners accountable, as well, for delivering,” Ms. Flint said in a meeting with The Globe’s editorial board.

Toronto Pearson and the rest of the aviation industry is striving to avoid a second summer of chaos caused by a lack of experienced or sufficient employees at many of the airlines, contractors and government agencies that work at airports.

Air Canada AC-T and WestJet Airlines generally employ their own baggage handlers, but smaller airlines hire contractors that include Menzies Aviation (the company WestJet uses at Pearson), Swissport and Strategic Aviation. Airports have no regulatory authority over the contractors, but do require them to sign annual licences.

Ottawa International Airport is implementing a system of standards and audits to make service levels a condition of maintaining a licence. Mark Laroche, its CEO, said the standards apply to all who work there, including fuelers, de-icers and food providers. He wants to weed out the companies that are unable to provide good service because they cut corners on training and wages in order to underbid rivals and win contracts.

“If you’re going to work on the airfield, we’re going make sure that the management team is there, training appropriately their employees and the work is being done,” Mr. Laroche said by phone.

In March, the Ottawa airport cancelled the operating licence of Menzies Aviation, the ground handler for Flair Airlines and Sunwing Airlines, for poor service. “They weren’t performing as expected,” he said.

Menzies did not respond to e-mailed questions.

At Toronto Pearson, Ms. Flint said $100,000 in fines have been levied against ground handlers since April.

“We’re not looking to make this a profit centre,” Ms. Flint said. “We’re looking to change behaviour.”

The fines are calculated based on the level of impact they are having on the system, she said.

“We’re not using it every time‚” Ms. Flint said. Penalties would be issued “if there’s a chronic delay to the system, if there’s a chronic history of this aircraft coming in without having a crew to” marshal it to the gate or unload the luggage. Airlines also face sanctions.

Toronto Pearson has published the maximum time within which it expects airlines to bring their planes to the gate, and the time limit for delivering all luggage onto the terminal baggage systems. Ms. Flint said repeated failures to meet these standards will have consequences for contractors and airlines alike. This is because a delay in one part of the system can affect the entire aviation network.

“If you’re consistently late to the gate with your aircraft, it has a ripple effect on every other aircraft. You’re not going to get access to the gate,” she said.

Monette Pasher, president of Canadian Airports Council, said the hubs she represents are working with contactors to ensure that performance standards are met and that travellers experience better service.

Ms. Flint points to smooth operations since springtime, including during March break, as proof the industry has found its footing after the Christmas and summer failures. Still, she warns labour shortages could hamper the recovery, even as passenger volumes remain at about 85 per cent of 2019 levels, when more than 50 million people travelled through Toronto Pearson. Delays in new aircraft delivery could limit fleet sizes and airlines’ resiliency.

“Labour challenges certainly do remain. Not to the extent they were last year, but whether that’s pilot shortages, air-traffic control or shortages of just general labour, there’s still some softness and weakness around that,” Ms. Flint said.

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