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Transport Canada admits safety inspector shortage

Nov. 28, 2012, Ottawa - Transport Canada admitted Tuesday it is short of nearly 100 inspectors whose job is to check for safety problems at air carriers.


November 28, 2012
By The Vancouver Sun

Topics

Senior officials acknowledged the department is having a hard time
filling all 880 positions, with about 100 posts for inspectors vacant.

Meanwhile,
Auditor General Michael Ferguson, also testifying before the House of
Commons public accounts committee about oversight of Canada's civil
aviation system, complained Transport Canada's own national human
resources plan does not specify the number of inspectors and engineers
that are needed. Ferguson noted the department agreed to provide these
figures in response to his office's 2008 audit, but Transport Canada has
still not done so.

Associate deputy minister Anita Biguzs tried
to play down this, saying the department regularly updates its staffing
plans. "We feel like with the numbers that we have, that is sufficient
to meet requirements of the program," Biguzs said of the 880 inspection
positions.

Opposition parties weren't satisfied. "Clearly, that
puts the safety of Cana-ians in danger. We're about 100 short and the
response was unsatisfactory," NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat.

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"First off, they are short on the 880 and we don't know what 880 is based on," added Liberal MP Gerry Byrne.

When
pressed by opposition parties on this question, Gerard McDonald,
Transport Canada's assistant deputy minister of safety and security,
said the department will table by next year an analysis of staffing
needs for civil aviation as part of its national human resources plan.
He also defended Transport Canada's recruitment efforts in the civil
aviation branch.

"We have the same amount of positions, but in an
organization this large, there's a regular turnover of people, so the
total number of positions are not always filled," said McDonald, who
appeared alongside Biguzs to respond to Ferguson's latest audit on
Transport Canada's oversight of civil aviation, released earlier this
year.

In B.C., there have been long-standing concerns over
Transport Canada's monitoring of aircraft maintenance operations. A
federal transportation safety board report into the Sept. 17, 2005,
crash of an Enstrom 280C helicopter in Duncan that killed the pilot and
one passenger found the helicopter "was not serviced or maintained in
accordance with existing regulations and, as a result, maintenance
actions to correct serious engine-driven fuel pump defects were not
completed."

The board added: "Transport Canada did not inspect
the company (A & L Maintenance) performing maintenance on the
accident helicopter within the … specified three years, resulting in a
missed opportunity to learn that maintenance had not been performed in
accordance with Canadian regulations."

The latest audit notes
that Canada compares favorably with many other countries in its aviation
safety record. For example, last year, Canada saw the total number of
accidents decline to the lowest recorded figure in modern aviation
history, despite increases in air traffic; the accident rate in 2011 –
fewer than six accidents per 100,000 hours flown – represented a 25 per
cent improvement from a decade earlier.

Still, Ferguson's 2012
audit found that the regulator failed to conduct planned inspections of
hundreds of aviation companies designated as "higher risk" operations.
The audit found that only 67 per cent of air carriers, maintenance
companies and large airports were inspected, as they should have been,
under annual surveillance plans in 2010-11. This represents about 500
companies.

Under Transport Canada's surveillance plan, aviation companies designated as "high risk" must be inspected at least once a year.

"That
is significant considering that only the companies and the operational
areas of higher risk are to be selected for inspection in any given
year," Ferguson testified Tuesday.

Following this testimony,
Byrne asked McDonald and Biguzs how many civil aviation companies are
currently designated as "high risk." On both occasions, the officials
declined to answer.

After the meeting, Byrne called the non-response "contemptible."

He
added: "It's an actual categorization that puts them in a slot – they
must be inspected on an annual basis. That's a pretty straightforward
and simple answer to provide a Parliamentary committee. They refused to
provide it."


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