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Editorial: Of sound mind

July 10, 2017  By Matt Nicholls

Canada boasts one of the safest regulatory operating environments in the world but there is plenty of room for improvement – and changes are necessary to ensure it remains safe and secure in the months and years ahead.

Two critical regulatory issues facing Transport Canada (TC) are the establishment of comprehensive regulations for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and systems (UAVs, UASs) and the development of a concrete regulatory approach to pilot fatigue – a hot button issue being debated across the country by both pilot unions and aviation associations.

On the unmanned side, the challenge is creating the right environment to ensure economic growth, innovation and commercial development while mitigating risk and protecting public safety.

In 2016, there were 148 unmanned vehicle/airplane incidents nationwide and the number is on the rise. Near misses at large Canadian airports are becoming more prevalent and while TC has upped its marketing efforts and has erected NoDroneZone signage, more needs to be done.

TC has established recreational drone regulations and penalties – to which not everyone is enamoured – and is actively developing a framework for all types of unmanned aircraft. The good news is federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau is cognizant of the threat and his team is being proactive in creating a workable unmanned framework.


In a recent interview with the Montreal Gazette, Garneau spoke candidly with reporter Bill Brownstein about his fear of a drone-aircraft type of accident, noting, “That’s the kind of nightmare scenario that keeps me at night . . . I don’t ever want to be in a position if something were to happen, having people immediately say, ‘Why didn’t you do something?’” Obviously, this is a man with a plan.

The pilot fatigue issue is in more of a slumber – a fatigue-inducing process that has been going on for years with no suitable solution in sight.

TC proposed new pilot fatigue regulations at the end of March but it failed to sufficiently deliver the goods for pilots representing a wide percentage of the industry – non-commercial, non-scheduled operators in locations where flying is simply a necessity. Many of these operations represent an important lifeline connecting communities that need search and rescue (SAR) services, medevac, firefighting and more. So, it’s not surprising, the new regulations were met with scorn from Canadian aviation associations for myriad reasons. A coalition of nine regional and national Canadian associations – fixed- and rotary-wing – is vehemently against a “one-size-fits-all” approach and contends it fails to reflect the majority of flying operations that take place on a daily basis.

The coalition also contends that TC has simply not considered the measured recommendations the Canada Transportation Act Review made last year that maintain the regulations should be redeveloped to fit different segments of the aviation community.

The coalition’s advised next step is necessary: stop forcing the issue, revisit the process and introduce more comprehensive, sensible fatigue legislation that more accurately reflects operational tendencies in this country – not dictated by large operators flying scheduled, commercial service.

As outlined in the coalition’s “Safer Skies for All” open letter to Garneau: “Yes, this process has been going on for seven years and everyone is fatigued-with-fatigue . . . It is difficult to admit that we’ve been heading down the wrong path, but what’s done is done. If nothing changes, the result will be something that no one wants: one regulation that doesn’t seem to fit our diverse Canadian aviation needs . . . The unions do not have a monopoly on safety. Lives are precious to all of us and Canadians deserve to fly safe, with appropriate regulations in fatigue.”

It certainly seems a “reset” is necessary and will help prevent increased operational costs, fewer flights, logistical snafus and ultimately, not compromise an already safe operating environment – all situations that may occur under the proposed fatigue legislation.

Canada has always been a global leader in the development of its regulatory policies. TC must continue to take a careful, responsible approach with its regulatory development both in the unmanned space and with its pilot fatigue processes.

We need to get this right.


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