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Transportation regulators from both Canada and the United States met in November to discuss potential restrictions on Air Canada after two night-time incidents in California.Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Air Canada faced possible operational restrictions at San Francisco International Airport after two close calls involving passenger jets landing at night spurred U.S. investigations.

The unspecified measures were not imposed, but became the subject of a November meeting between officials from Transport Canada and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The landing incidents in July and October prompted Air Canada to launch a safety review of its operations under the oversight of Canadian regulators, including the addition of pilot supervisors on some San Francisco flights and enhanced crew training schedules.

Transport Canada said it is "pleased with the pro-active measures" Air Canada took after the night-time incidents, which spurred U.S. investigations and raised questions about Canada's rules over pilot flight times and fatigue.

"The department is satisfied with the company's review of its Airbus program and the corrective action plan it has put in place to address identified issues," said Marie-Anyk Côté, a Transport Canada spokeswoman, without elaborating. "Transport Canada continues to work with Air Canada following these incidents."

In July, an Air Canada pilot mistook a crowded taxiway for a runway, almost landing on a tarmac occupied by four planes awaiting takeoff. In October, another Air Canada pilot landed despite repeated orders to abort the attempt because another plane had not cleared the runway. He told investigators the cockpit radio was switched to another frequency, according to FAA documents released to The Globe.

Transport Canada officials requested and were granted a meeting with FAA officials to discuss the restrictions being considered by the airport, according to a document obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Four Transport Canada officials and two FAA flight-standards officials were present.

The FAA refused to reveal what possible operational restrictions were discussed at the meeting, deeming it "predecisional communications used to advise upper-level management regarding future actions that might be taken regarding the investigation."

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, said airports do not have the authority to impose restrictions on airlines. The FAA has not done so, either. "The FAA is satisfied with the actions that Air Canada and Transport Canada have taken," Mr. Gregor said.

The San Francisco airport did not respond to an interview request. An Air Canada spokesman declined to comment.

Transport Canada's rules governing pilot flight duty and rest times are more relaxed than those of several other countries, pilot groups say. Ottawa plans to impose new rules, but those permit passenger-jet crews to fly for more hours and/or with less rest than pilots in other countries, including the United States.

The current rules allow pilots to work for 14 hours, which compares with periods ranging from nine to 14 hours for U.S. or European crews. The proposed Canadian rules are more closely aligned with international standards, but would permit pilots to log more daily flight time than U.S. pilots.

"The best and most important safety feature on any aircraft has always been a well-rested, well-trained professional pilot. Ensuring that pilots are provided with adequate rest is crucial for maintaining aviation safety," said Tim Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. "While our efforts in the United States have helped contribute to an unparalleled record of aviation safety, there is still work to be done to ensure that the same regulations are extended to commercial cargo pilots and cockpit crew members in Canada."

In the Oct. 22 incident, a pilot flying an Air Canada Airbus 320 into San Francisco from Montreal at 9:30 p.m. was ordered seven times to abort the landing because the air-traffic controller believed another plane was on the runway. The pilot landed safely and told the tower he had radio troubles. He later told investigators the cockpit's radio frequency was changed, according to FAA documents obtained by The Globe. "The runway was clear and in sight so I landed," the pilot told investigators, who said the radio was likely switched in error.

The veteran pilot was on the first flight of his shift, and had been on duty for 10 hours. He told investigators he was not tired.

The July 7 near miss remains under investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is looking into pilot flight times, radio communications, witness accounts and other data. The pilot of the Airbus A320 mistook a busy taxiway for a runway and came within 59 feet of the ground before aborting the landing at about 11:45 p.m.

"Where's this guy going?" a pilot of one plane in its path radioed, according to audio posted by "He's on the taxiway."

"Air Canada, go around," the air traffic controller instructed, meaning do not land. "It looks like you were lined up for [the taxiway] there."

"Air Canada flew directly over us," said one pilot.

"Yeah, I saw that, guys," the air traffic controller replied.

Malaysia has signed a deal with Houston-based private firm Ocean Infinity to pay it up to $70 million if it can find missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 within 90 days. The jet went down in the Indian Ocean in 2014 and disappeared along with all 239 people on board. Lucy Fielder reports.


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