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Management shakeup at Toronto’s Pearson airport in the works as executive leaves

Passengers line up to check in for Sun Wing flights at Toronto’s Pearson airport Jan. 8, 2013. Exteme cold this week forced widespread delays and cancellations at Canadian airports.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Senior management changes are in the works at the beleaguered agency that manages Canada's busiest airport.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority announced that chief financial officer Brian Gabel is leaving at the end of March. His resignation follows on the heels of Dale Rooney, the former chief information officer who left last November, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Both departures come at a particularly tumultuous time for the agency that manages Pearson International Airport. Just days after thousands of travellers were stranded at Pearson during a deep freeze earlier this month, a computer glitch caused a new round of delays on Jan. 11.

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During his nearly 3.5 years at the GTAA, Mr. Rooney oversaw the outsourcing of the agency's entire IT infrastructure. The GTAA inked a five-year, $130-million deal in 2010 with IBM Canada Ltd. to outsource critical operations such as ticket kiosks, passenger and baggage check-in, and aircraft gates to the technology giant. Mr. Rooney reported to Mr. Gabel, who is also vice-president of finance and information technology.

Mr. Gabel's decision to accept a position at the Canadian Public Accountability Board, the body that oversees accounting firms, is "unrelated to recent events and preceded the IBM systems outage last week," Scott Armstrong, a spokesman for the GTAA, said Tuesday in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Rooney did not respond to an e-mail message from The Globe, and Mr. Armstrong declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his departure.

A source familiar with the GTAA's IT systems said the recent computer glitch occurred after IBM used a "big bang" approach to update terminals that airlines use to check in passengers at Pearson, making the changes all at once instead of phasing them in. The terminals have to be restarted after such an update, said the source who asked not to be named. It seems, he said, that the infrastructure could not handle a massive restart. With the check-in counters not functioning properly on Jan. 11, airline staff processed travellers manually, causing delays. In a statement that day, the GTAA apologized for the inconvenience to passengers travelling out of Pearson.

Mr. Armstrong would not comment on the incident beyond saying, "where required, specific issues have been managed and addressed as a course of regular business."

The agency has also struck a special committee of the board of directors to conduct a wide-ranging review into events surrounding a so-called ground stop two weeks ago, which halted the arrival of North American flights to Pearson for several hours and contributed to chaos at the airport.

In a statement this week, GTAA chief executive officer Howard Eng praised Mr. Gabel, who earned $513,300 in 2012, for his "sound fiscal management" and his commitment to reducing costs at the agency.

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Pearson is the world's most expensive place to land a plane, according to an annual survey released in July, 2013 by the Air Transport Research Society. Atlanta was the most efficient and cost-competitive airport in the world, while Vancouver International Airport was Canada's top performer, according to the study done by the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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