Ground crews detail lack of communication, 'debacle,' of Air Transat delays

Ground crews working two Air Transat flights that faced high-profile tarmac delays this summer say the pilots didn't tell them, nor were they aware, of imminent fuel needs that played a role in the incident.

One of the two international flights ran out of fuel during the hours-long delay, causing a shutdown of the air conditioning system, leading to rising cabin temperatures, tensions over lack of water and, ultimately, a 911 call from one of the passengers.

Representatives from First Air, the ground handlers for Air Transat at the Ottawa airport, say they did order fuel, but it wasn't possible to get it to the aircraft because they were parked on the taxiway at the far end of the airport.

Owen Prosser, a First Air ramp co-ordinator who worked the Air Transat flights, says the pilot of the plane that ran out of fuel never told him how desperate the fuel situation was.

The testimony came at the start of the second day of hearings into the delays, in which two Air Transat flights sat on the tarmac for almost five and six hours, respectively, with passengers not allowed to disembark.

The two Montreal-bound flights were diverted to Ottawa due to weather on July 31, along with about 20 other planes in an incident that appears to have taxed airport resources.

Prosser says he has never experienced such a mass diversion of planes, calling it a "debacle.''

Yesterday, passengers told members of the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is investigating the incidents, that they would have given anything to be allowed off the planes, even if only to face further delays or long drives home.

Carol Clark, director of commercial operations for First Air, told the hearing today that the flights would have been "terminated'' had the pilots decided to let the passengers disembark, forcing them to stay overnight in a hotel or travel to Montreal by bus.