Air Canada reaches deal to save charter flights for NHL teams

The Canadian Press
9/18/2009 8:44:14 PM
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MONTREAL -- Air Canada reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday that will allow the resumption of NHL sports charter flights for the 2009-10 season.

Details of the agreement were not immediately available, but the airline said it includes number of initiatives to address U.S. concerns.

Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee said the issue had threatened to disrupt the travel schedules of NHL teams for the upcoming hockey season which begins Oct. 1.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Transport Minister John Baird and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon for their critical interventions, which allowed this matter to be resolved in time for the start of the upcoming NHL season," Dee said in a statement.

Harper, an avid hockey fan, said during his visit to Washington this week that a tentative deal to resolve the dispute had been reached.

Air Canada was told last month by the department that it must cancel all of its season-long sports charters regardless of the point of origin.

The department claimed the charters violated U.S. law because they last for an entire season and sometimes involve travel between U.S. cities rather than solely between one point in Canada and one point in the U.S.

The U.S. prohibits carriage of passengers or cargo for compensation or hire by a foreign airline solely between points in the U.S.

Air Canada had challenged the decision in a U.S. court.

The airline asserted in a lawsuit that the ban does not apply to the carriage of stopover traffic since stopovers, by definition, include an international segment. For example, the airline said, the Toronto Maple Leafs may have games scheduled in Toronto, then Anaheim, Calif., then Dallas, and then back in Toronto.

Air Canada offers season-long charters for sports teams whose schedules require play in the U.S. and Canada. Initially, the airline's clients were Canada-based hockey teams, but it has since expanded its offering to U.S. teams in both hockey and basketball.

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