Aviation Safety and Transport Canada

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Plane travelAir travel seems so safe these days that few people think of an accident until it happens. This is the case because of safety systems to prevent them are already in place. 

These safety systems and standards of operation prescribe sufficient training of pilots, correct maintenance of planes, appropriate action in case of emergencies, and so on. In addition, a good safety system must include guidelines for the oversight of airlines to ensure that they obey safety regulations. 

In 2008 Transport Canada changed its aviation oversight system to a safety management system, or SMS. This SMS prescribes that air operators whose planes carry 20 or more passengers should develop their own in-house safety management systems that will be periodically examined by Transport Canada's inspectors. 

In response, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association, with the help of Abacus Data, conducted a survey of 284 pilots and professional aviation inspectors to find out whether they believed the system was safe.

The survey found that almost 90 per cent of respondents thought SMS prevented the timely correction of safety problems, and that 84 per cent expected a major aviation accident or incident in the near future (Blaze Carlson, 2014).

Respondents claimed that the system relegated inspectors from physical inspectors to auditors of airlines' in-house safety systems; or inspectors of paperwork, instead of inspectors of planes and personnel. 

Uncomfortably, the Transportation Safety Board recently found that Transport Canada did approve First Air's safety system just before its 2011 crash that killed 12 people in Nunavut. 

The Auditor-General questioned Transport Canada's ability to police the safety systems of rail operators after an exploding oil tanker killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic. This is precisely the same system that is in place for Canadian aviation.

In 2012 the Auditor-General also found that not enough aviation inspections were being carried out and that air operators were not providing enough information to the inspectors (CBC News, 2014).

Following the survey, Transport Canada argued that, while more planes than ever before took to the skies, air accidents were at an all-time low. 

Air Canada also pointed to other air transport agencies, such as International Air Transport Association (IATA), that audit the safety systems of the larger airliners (CBC News, 2014).

This survey introduces the opportunity to learn and have the discussion required to keep us safe.