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Floatplane safety response receives mixed review

(Canadian OH&S News) -- The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has given mixed reviews to Transport Canada’s (TC) response to two recommendations that aim to make floatplanes safer.


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has given mixed reviews to Transport Canada’s (TC) response to two recommendations that aim to make floatplanes safer.

Following its investigation of a floatplane tragedy at Lillabelle Lake, Ont. in May 2012, the TSB recommended that TC initiate mandatory emergency egress training for pilots of commercial floatplanes and also install shoulder harnesses in all commercial floatplanes with nine or fewer seats. The TSB released its assessment of TC’s response on March 13.

According to the TSB’s Assessment Rating Guide — a system by which the board grades how well organizations have responded to its recommendations and how effective they are — TC received a score of “Satisfactory Intent” regarding the emergency egress recommendation and one of “Unsatisfactory” regarding the shoulder harness recommendation. TC has made plans to propose regulations that require emergency egress training, but it has deemed a requirement for mandatory shoulder harnesses to be unfeasible.

“The proposed recommendation is not practical for the Canadian fleet of seaplanes,” said Karine Martel, a spokesperson for TC. “Mandating the retrofitting of shoulder restraints for all occupants is not practical, as most of the aircraft structures are not robust enough to support shoulder restraints in a crash and it may hinder evacuation of the aircraft.”

But the TSB maintains that shoulder harnesses could save many lives and that their safety benefits are beyond question — to the degree that they are now standard on many floatplanes, including common Cessna and DHC-2 planes.

“We’ve done a number of studies over the years, and we’ve done a number of investigations over the years, where sometimes occupants of the aircraft become unconscious or lose consciousness because of head trauma, if they’re not restrained or protected properly during the impact,” said Mark Clitsome, the TSB’s director of air investigations.

Instead of making shoulder harnesses compulsory, TC has stated that it plans to continue promoting safety education and conducting awareness campaigns.

“Once again this year, the department distributed floatplane awareness safety material to operators to share with passengers,” said Martel. “Transport Canada recommends the adoption of best practices in relation to floatplane safety, including upper-body restraints to be used by front seat occupants, briefing to passengers of the proper usage of flotation devices during emergency egress, emergency egress training for flight crew and the adoption of aircraft safety design improvements to facilitate egress.”

Martel added that TC also intends to amend the Canadian Aviation Regulations to establish emergency egress training for the flight crews of commercial fixed-wing floatplanes. “Transport Canada will continue to collaborate with industry to promote floatplane best practices,” Martel said, adding that the amendments were expected to be published in the Canada Gazette Part I in the fall.

An alternative solution that Clitsome suggested would be for floatplane owners and companies to supply their own safety equipment. “There are some companies out there that have sold aftermarket kits, where you can buy them for your floatplane,” he explained. “So you can install shoulder harnesses in some of the older Beavers that they have, the DHC-2 and Cessna aircraft.”

The incident that prompted the TSB recommendations occurred on May 25, 2012, when a Cochrane Air Services de Havilland DHC-2 Mk.1 Beaver floatplane failed to land properly and went into the lake, sinking to the bottom. One of the two passengers was rescued, while the other passenger and the pilot drowned.