Safety & Training
It’s Time to Hit the Books
By Ken Armstrong
Early aviation had few rules and regulations – they didn’t seem necessary. It took aircrews many years to apply the foibles of human factors and subsequently create losses. Oh, it’s true that early technology machines munched up many and contributed to elevated accident numbers. However, with time, mechanical malfunctions became relatively rare. Meanwhile, pilot error and the increasing loss of lives drew attention from the legislators and a mountain of flying regulations resulted.
By Ken Armstrong
Early aviation had few rules and regulations – they didn’t seem
necessary. It took aircrews many years to apply the foibles of human
factors and subsequently create losses. Oh, it’s true that early
technology machines munched up many and contributed to elevated
accident numbers. However, with time, mechanical malfunctions became
relatively rare. Meanwhile, pilot error and the increasing loss of
lives drew attention from the legislators and a mountain of flying
So, have they worked? Not so you’d have noticed.
One might initially deduce that Transport Canada (TC) has failed on its
initiative to reduce these increasing incidents and accidents. But, the
truth of the matter is, we have all failed as aircrew and management
because human factors continue to drag the industry down with damages
and deaths, contributing to more than 75 per cent of all accidents!
Many of you will recall that I have repeatedly observed that TC cannot
effectively “push a rope uphill” by mandating safety. In other words,
increasing regulation will not decrease accidents. Truth to tell, we
already all know what it takes – common sense flying and aviators not
decreasing safety margins by cutting corners.
As an accident investigator/reconstructionist, I am overwhelmed at the
number of pilots, and occasionally “mechanics,” that violate a
multitude of regulations and standard operating procedures to
eventually arrive at the place of their accident. Oftentimes when they
are interrogated at a subsequent discovery by a team of lawyers, the
aircrews’ lack of knowledge of regulations is shocking. At a time when
they should appear knowledgeable in defence of their actions (or
inactions), they show how little they really know. Do you suppose this
contributed to them being in an accident in the first place?
Unfortunately, for these persecuted pilots, ignorance of the
regulations will not result in wins in court.
There was a time around four decades ago when I knew virtually all the
regulations, but had little flying experience. Now, the opposite is
closer to the truth. There are so many regulations and standards that
it is virtually impossible for flyers to avoid transgressions because,
apart from a few bespeckled individuals with ink smears on the tips of
their noses, no one knows all the applicable regulations. And it
doesn’t help that these edicts are sometimes contradictory and
constantly change! It’s interesting that the courts often don’t seem to
care as much about aviation regulations as about what is prudent in
terms of pilot/engineer conduct.
Sometimes an individual who essentially follows the regulations can be
found guilty of negligence by virtue of not considering the best
interests and safety of his passengers. This shouldn’t make you throw
your hands up in surrender at the hopelessness of getting a fair shake
after an accident. After all, what the courts are really deciding is
what is reasonable conduct – i.e., common sense. If you are cutting
corners and courting risky behaviour, you are probably an accident
looking for a place to happen. If we all followed the basic common
sense precepts, almost all prangs would be eliminated.
After huge advances for physics, Albert Einstein observed, “Problems
cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”
This likely explains why our industry and TC seem unable to overcome
the growing accident trend. Since we are not taking the bull by the
horns, it will likely be our customers – or lack of them – that will
drive future standards in our industry. For instance, forestry
officials in Canada have banded together in a Best Practices program to
raise standards and promote more currency/training of pilots. Some oil
industry and EMS operations have also begun to raise the bar on safety
equipment and flight limitations that go beyond those of TC. These
agencies found it necessary to get involved in guiding our direction
because many operators and aircrews chose not to meet reasonable safety
standards. So, how do you like being told how to operate by your
What’s the solution? Well, we can start by insisting our staff members
review and broaden their knowledge of the regulations – and then
operate within them. Remember how poorly many aviators did with
regulatory questions on their Transport Canada pilot proficiency
checks? Did you reckon there was a reason so many of the Transport
questions were on regulations?
It’s time to hit the books, fellow aviators – it’s all part of the job.