Down to the Wire

Draft Fatigue Management Regulations Simply Don’t Fly
Fred Jones
July 10, 2017
By Fred Jones
As Helicopters goes to press, the Canadian helicopter community is being led to believe that the draft Fatigue Management Regulations published in a Canada Gazette I Notice of Intent (NOI) on March 25 (www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2017/2017-03-25/html/notice-avis-eng.php) will be published for public consultation in Canada Gazette 1 by the end of June with very few changes.


Fortunately, Transport Canada (TC) has indicated that they can still make changes in response to comments received, which is a very good thing. Historically, TC has adopted the practice of fine-tuning regulations, rather than making significant changes post Canada-Gazette I.

If ever there was draft regulation in need of an overhaul, it is this one. Nine national and regional associations from across Canada have maintained that this regulation is so badly flawed, it needs to be sent back for some significant revisions, in a meaningful dialogue with all industry segments. Since 2010, when the fatigue management-working group began its deliberations, the process has centered on the needs of the large scheduled international airline community.

TC occasionally listened to the concerns of the other segments of the industry, but the regulator has largely ignored their input.

Their mantra, and the mantra of the pilot’s unions, has been “a pilot is a pilot.” It is true that all pilots are subject to fatigue – however, the way that fatigue is mitigated should vary across different industry segments. The existing regulations recognize industry segment-specific needs across a wide variety of issues, including emergency services, dispatch system requirements, training standards – the list goes on and on.

The Americans and the Europeans have recognized that different industry segments should be regulated differently – having proceeded with new airline-only rules, for now. In short, the Canadian regulations were drafted to recognize the unique requirements of diverse sectors of the commercial aviation community, serving many isolated communities in a large country. The NOI draft regulations defy that principle.

Except on a very few issues, even the fatigue-related science rarely identifies hard numbers. It identifies fatigue-related principles that should be respected and provides very general guidance. TC has attached numbers that, in some cases, have been pulled from thin air.

Sometimes the NOI regulations defy the science – the “zeroing provisions,” which have served the industry and its flight crews well for the past 10 years, were summarily removed in the NOI regulations. TC’s response: “The cumulative flight hours can get too high.” There is strong support in the science that three days free from duty, “zeros” all fatigue – including any fatigue from duty hours and flight hours. Our industry is largely based on periods of deployed duty – followed by extended periods of time free from duty. Pilots are happy, operators are happy and fatigue is mitigated in a most significant way. When was the last time a helicopter flight crew member asked, “Can I take one day off each week, in camp?”

We believe TC has little awareness of the devastating impact that these proposed new regulations will have on a diverse Canadian commercial aviation community. Last year, TC circulated a survey to determine the impact of the proposed new regulations. The survey was, however, complicated and very poorly drafted. It was also circulated in the heart of the summer operating season and relied upon the survey’s respondents to patch together an incomplete lay-summary (no regulatory text) of the revisions to the regulations since the 2014 Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA), while viewing the old regulatory text. TC notes it got a three per cent response-rate from air taxi operators.

HAC is not saying that the fatigue management regulations in Canada do not require some adjustment. There is widespread acknowledgement that tour lengths need to be adjusted downwards, and we do need to recognize the fatigue-relate science as it applies to disruptions of the window of circadian low (WOCL).

We also need to better protect the opportunity for eight hours of rest, for example. And we are not airlines and we should not be treated like airlines. The current NOI proposal will not improve safety – it will only make the cost of our services higher and aggravate the existing shortage of experienced helicopter pilots.

Sadly, our customers and the communities that we serve will pay the price of this misguided new regulation, if it moves forward in its current form.


Fred Jones is the president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada and a regular contributor to Helicopters magazine.


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