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Armstrong: Transport Canada

November 3, 2008  By Ken Armstrong

Transport Canada long ago forgot one of its prime roles – to promote aviation. Moreover, it has turned safety into nothing more than a buzzword in a country where cost cutting is now the prime goal.

Friend or Foe?

Transport Canada long ago forgot one of its prime roles – to promote aviation. Moreover, it has turned safety into nothing more than a buzzword in a country where cost cutting is now the prime goal.

In recent years, staffing and positions in TC have been drastically cut and often personnel promoted into positions they are ill-qualified to fill – in my opinion. At the highest level, there is no appreciable understanding of Canada’s aviation fleet. This is especially apparent in the helicopter industry where the department has relinquished useful contact between our industry and government. The industry has been saddled with more burdensome paperwork, unmanageable regulatory change and additional costs. Is it any wonder we are in a downtrend?

An example of Transport Canada’s flawed strategies is the mandating of the 406 ELTs. The department has overturned the recommendations of the industry/regulator CARAC process and single-handedly followed the Department of Defence’s desire for this defective technology. Historically, it is prudent to recall the first ELTs foisted upon us by Transport Canada. Remember them?


They possessed flagrantly dangerous batteries, faulty “g” switches and flawed performance. The 406 version retains many of these glitches and has a considerable delay after triggering, thereby further creating safety issues. Mandating them is more ridiculous when better technology is imminently available. To force aviation in Canada to install faulty equipment is expensive and ludicrous.

Discontent and morale within TC personnel is abysmal and their performance often reflects their attitude as operators’ complaints increase over the delays and lack of previously available services. To be fair, and fully apportion blame, the sweeping cost-cutting measures enacted by TC were approved by politicians in the Liberal-led days. Severe TC staff cutbacks caused reduced service levels, angering operators who are forced to pay increasing fees for less support. Moreover, the power structure and lack of communications between Ottawa and regions results in disparities with similar problems having different resolutions. This results in a lack of standardization.
As I forecast years ago, Flight 2005 is a flop. Before this big safety drive ramped up in 2005, the 2003 and 2004 helicopter crash rate was 43 and then 41.  These jumped to 50 in 2005 and then 56 in 2006!  According to other TSB data, the first quarter of 2008 has seen more than double the normal helicopter accident rate – potentially indicating a record number approaching 60 per annum.

Transport Canada’s policy of dictating safety from the regulator’s position was doomed to failure and akin to pushing a rope up a pole. Safety matures as part of a company’s culture and cannot be force-fed from the regulator. Safe operations require pilots, mechanics and management to not only learn the correct way to accomplish goals, but also to stay with the plan – regardless of customer pressures. (But this is best covered as a future topic.)  Attendees at the Ottawa HAC convention will recall Merlin Preuss declaring that our industry would reduce the accident rate or he would take action. A look at the accident statistics shows that the department’s actions have produced negative impacts – no pun intended….  Transport Canada has foisted Safety Management Systems (SMS) on the industry as an attempt at a world-leading program. However, most countries have rejected this flawed flight, as positive results are lacking and operators’ burdens have increased. Many think of the program as a face-saving scam.

How can we stop or delay aviation’s downward spiral?  Firstly, politicians and regulators must realize that the healthy airline industry they desire requires the remainder of general aviation to be healthy. After all, GA provides the pilots, engineering staff and often managers for the big boys. If our regulatory environment quashes creation of Canadian crews for high-end aviation roles – we will have our cockpits filled by foreigners who have widely differing cockpit management skills and lack our relatively high level of CRM. Moreover, TC needs to work cooperatively with the industry rather than try to dictate change.

If the current senior TC management is incapable of fostering a healthy aviation industry in Canada, it’s time to clean house and replace them with qualified leadership that can meet the mandates of Canadian aviation and serve the broad spectrum of Canadians. There are certainly many stalwart, hard-working TC employees in the ranks who are capable of doing the top jobs.

Your feedback on this or any other topic is always welcome. Please contact the editor at dmccarthy@annexweb.com or go to www.helicoptersmagazine.com to post a comment in our blog section.

Ken Armstrong is an ATP rated pilot who has likely flown more helicopter types than anyone in the world and taught advanced flying skills in dozens of countries


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