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Pilot association warns of “impending disaster” following survey

Budget cuts have led to reduced oversight, inspections: CFPA


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Canadian Federal Pilots Association (CFPA) is sounding an alarm that Transport Canada (TC) budget cuts may lead to a major aviation accident in the near future.

The warning comes after the March release of a report by Abacus Data. The report, which revealed the results of a survey of 243 aviation inspectors from March 14 to 22, stated that 81 per cent of respondents believed that a “major aviation accident” was likely due to the current state of Canadian aviation safety. The same percentage felt that TC’s Safety Management Systems (SMS) — in which airlines manage their own safety, with little oversight from outside — prevented inspectors from fixing safety problems, while 85 per cent said that they had little or no faith in SMS.

In an April 3 press conference in Ottawa, CFPA national chair Greg McConnell told reporters that TC’s aviation budget had decreased by 60 per cent since 2008. Due to cuts, many working aviation inspectors have not flown aircraft in more than a year and do not even have valid licences, a situation that “is like having a traffic cop who doesn’t know how to drive a car,” he said.

“There’s been a very slow migration away from traditional regulatory-type oversight, where we’ve moved to an SMS system being the only system,” McConnell told COHSN. “Inspectors end up reviewing reports that the airlines themselves create and then submit to Transport Canada.” Lack of mandatory training for inspectors and oversight has heightened safety risks for both employees and the public, he said.

McConnell added that the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has issued more than 50 safety recommendations to TC to which the latter has not yet responded. “And some of these are ten to 20 years old,” he said.

In an e-mailed response, TC media spokesperson Sara Johnston said that safety is the federal transport ministry’s top priority.

“Canada has one of the safest aviation systems in the world,” said Johnston. “Transport Canada has a robust, risk-based oversight program that allows the department to prioritize its resources strategically to areas that provide the greatest safety benefit.”

Johnston added that SMS is intended to help transportation companies identify safety risks before they become bigger problems. “SMS does not replace all the other safety regulations. Nor does it not replace regular inspection activities undertaken to ensure regulatory compliance. Operators must still comply with all regulations and standards, and SMS adds an extra layer of protection.”

McConnell countered that while SMS works well in theory, it cannot guarantee a strict safety culture. “I believe in SMS myself; I think it can be a very, very good thing,” he said. “But you need to have regulatory oversight underneath, which entices or encourages air operators to do all the things the SMS is supposed to have done.”

The best answer, said McConnell, is simply to bring back the old level of oversight. “Return to doing audits and inspections,” he suggested.

The Abacus report also pointed out that only 55 per cent of surveyed pilot inspectors had completed all mandatory training to oversee and ensure compliance with safety requirements. About 70 per cent said that they had not been sufficiently trained for assigned tasks at least some of the time.

“I suspect that eventually, that might turn into Canada Labour Code-type complaints where people start to refuse to do the work, because it’s dangerous,” said McConnell. “If you’re not properly trained, you can’t do the work.”

Johnston said that Canadian pilots still have to comply with several training and licencing requirements.

“The exemption from in-aircraft training provides an alternative means of compliance in a way that maintains a high standard of aviation safety,” she said. “This practice conforms to international requirements and those of our partners.”