For Immediate Release

October 24, 2016 

Transport Canada defies Safety Board

Ottawa – Just weeks after the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) called for reforms to strengthen serious weaknesses in aviation safety oversight, Transport Canada has defied those recommendations and quietly exempted entire sectors of commercial aviation from safety oversight. 

According to an internal bulletin to Transport Canada staff these changes came into effect on August 17, 2016, just four weeks after the TSB’s latest call for reform. Neither the public nor anyone else has been advised of these reductions. 

In addition to diminishing safety oversight at Canada’s airport and heliports, Transport Canada managers have completely exempted four other sectors of Canadian aviation from any safety inspections. 

Business aircraft like the one former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice died in last week, distributors of aviation parts, and aircraft that do dangerous aerial work to maintain hydro facilities, fight fires, and the like, will no longer be subject to any safety checks by Transport Canada inspectors. Likewise, heliports, like the one on top of St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto, will no longer be subject to any safety compliance inspections by Transport Canada. 

The decision also means that every certified airport in Canada, from Vancouver International to St. John's International, will no longer be subject to full safety assessments. Instead, a Transport Canada inspection will now only cover one small part of an airport’s safety plan. By comparison, the US Federal Aviation Administration requires full inspections of airports annually. 

On June 15, 2016, the TSB recommended Transport Canada: 

  • “conduct regular SMS assessments to evaluate the capability of operators to effectively manage safety”, and 
  • “enhance its oversight policies, procedures and training to ensure the frequency and focus of surveillance, as well as post-surveillance oversight activities, including enforcement, are commensurate with the capability of the operator to effectively manage risk”. 

These TSB recommendations were made following its investigation of the crash of an Ornge medical evacuation helicopter in Northern Ontario that killed four people in 2013. 

“The TSB is calling for more safety checks, not fewer. Transport Canada is actively undercutting these important safety recommendations before the Minister has even had a chance to respond to them,” said Greg McConnell National Chair of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association, which represents the licenced pilots who work at Transport Canada as aviation safety inspectors. 

Because Transport Canada’s decision is not public, the CFPA has advised the chair of the Transportation Safety Board, Kathy Fox, of this development.

“I am sure that these decisions will come as a surprise to you as no one outside of Transport Canada has been advised of them. Nor will it be lost on you and your colleagues that these decisions to reduce safety oversight were made just a few weeks after you called for more, not less, regulatory oversight and before the Minister has had a chance to respond to the Board’s recommendations arising form the investigation of the Ornge medical evacuation helicopter crash in Moosonee on 31 May 2013 (Aviation Investigation Report A13H0001).” 

Under Safety Management Systems (SMS), three oversight “tools” are available to inspectors: a full SMS assessment is the most comprehensive and involves reviewing every aspect of a licence holder’s safety policies and systems. Certified airports in Canada will no longer be subject to this level of scrutiny. Instead, Transport Canada’s safety oversight will be limited to “Program Validation Inspections” which look at a single aspect of a licence holder’s safety system in isolation. The third tool is called a Process Inspection, which is the least of inspections and focuses on a single activity within a single component of an operator’s system. 

According to Transport Canada’s direction to staff, these decisions have been taken because an algorithm has established a low risk indicator for every aviation licence holder in these sectors. However, this technology is flawed. It relies on regular updates of safety data that Transport Canada can no longer supply because inspections are so infrequent. It appears that the only thing that will cause the algorithm to spit out an increased risk level is an increase in accidents and fatalities. 

Transport Canada has previously reduced safety oversight of the business aviation sector. In January 2003, the regulator delegated licensing and safety oversight of the aircraft operated by corporations to the Canadian Business Aircraft Association (CBAA), an industry lobby group.

Four years later, an audit of the CBAA’s safety management system concluded it failed to meet a majority (5 of 8) of regulatory requirements, and found that the CBAA: 

  • does not provide any planned or structured oversight of private operators”
  • does not collect and analyze safety data and risk factors
  • does not punish private operators for safety violations so there are no consequences for violating the rules
  • lacks procedures for suspending or cancelling an operator certificate in the event of serious safety problems
  • does not track its own safety program to ensure it meets government standards . 

These troubling conclusions led the TSB to urge Transport Canada to cancel the delegation and bring business aircraft back under its own licensing and surveillance program, a move announced seven years later by then Minister John Baird on March 16, 2010. 

“Fast forward to today and managers at Transport Canada are once again ready to gamble with safety while ignoring the TSB in the process,” McConnell said. 

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 For information: Jim Thompson • jim@thompsoncom.ca • 613-447-9592

Attachment: Backgrounder