OHS Canada Magazine

Older planes to get warning system upgrade

December 13, 2011

Health & Safety Transportation

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

New regulations proposed by the federal government would give pilots of older planes an added layer of security, finally bringing Canada on par with other international standards.

Earlier this month Transport Canada, with the support of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, announced plans that would mandate the installation of a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) on any plane able to carry six or more passengers.

The systems use sensors outside of a plane, a plane’s altimeter and GPS mapping along with variables like the speed and angle of a plane’s descent, the position of the flaps and whether the landing gear is up or down to determine if a plane is going to collide with terrain, water or obstacles, says Bill Boucher, vice-president of flight operations for the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC).

“If you’re in a mountainous area with your [landing] gear up and are descending, it will warn you” with lights, sounds and verbal warnings, he says, but the technology is also advanced enough to know when plane is approaching the ground to land.


Just under 2,500 planes registered in Canada would need some form of TAWS installed, says Maryse Durette, a media relations representative for Transport Canada, adding that a majority of airplanes covered by the regulations are already in compliance.

“The chances are, if you are flying a technologically advanced aircraft, it is already equipped. The greater impact would be on older airplane operators,” Boucher suggests. “The regulation allows that the best practices are followed by all operators.”

The proposed regulations, which would replace ground proximity warning systems under Section 605.37 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations, will require the systems have an enhanced altitude accuracy function, due to older detection systems that gave altitude readings that could be off by up to 500 feet, says a Transport Canada backgrounder. The TAWS must be installed two years after the regulations are passed and operators will have five years to equip the enhanced altitude accuracy function. TAWS use is mandatory, says Durette, and cannot be switched off by the pilot.

The proposed amendments were pre-published in Part I of the Canada Gazette on December 3. Stakeholders will have a 75-day consultation period to comment on the proposed regulation, and Transport Canada will then review and consider all the comments received, Durette says.

Savings expected to total $215M over 10 years

The regulation would bring Canada in line with the United States Federal Aviation Administration, the European Aviation Safety Agency and in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards, the release says. It is estimated to save approximately $215 million over 10 years by preventing injuries, fatalities and material damages.

The regulation has been a long time coming and the delay is evidence of the complicated aviation regulation process in the country, says John McKenna, president and CEO of ATAC. In 2005, any US-registered plane with more than six passenger seats had to be equipped with TAWS.

Jeff Tillapaugh, the operations manager at Richmond, British Columbia-based Pacific Coast Airlines, says of their 13 planes, eight were built in the 1970s and need to be retrofitted with TAWS.

“Especially flying in BC, having all the best equipment is not a bad idea,” he says. “We go into some places where it’s a small runway at the bottom of a big valley, so having tools to give us better situational awareness is great.”

Some operators, like Central Mountain Air in Smithers, BC, are finding that the ground proximity warning systems they have already installed on their planes will not pass muster under the new regulations.

“Three are already equipped with a degree of TAWS, but different from what’s been mandated in the new proposal, so like everyone else, we’re facing a decision to make on what to put in,” says Lindsay Clougher, the company’s vice-president, adding the cost of installing new systems in all sixteen of the company’s planes could be anywhere from half a million to several million dollars.

Boucher says that there could be case-by-case exemptions for some types of aircraft that aren’t flying in high-risk areas, where the high expense of the systems wouldn’t be warranted.

“In the end, safety is really important, but it has to be a reasonable amount. We don’t have traffic lights at every street corner; we have stop signs at certain areas. As the traffic expands, and your risk increases, then the measures become more warranted,” he says.


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