Transport Canada falls down on safety audit

A high level audit of aviation watchdog Transport Canada has revealed ‘significant weaknesses’ in how it goes about checking safety.

The audit, completed last September, found that only 67 per cent of airlines, maintenance companies and large airports were inspected, which meant Transport Canada was failing to adequately manage oversight of airline safety risks.

Transport Canada has put in place a regulatory framework for civil aviation safety that is consistent with international standards, said Michael Ferguson, Canada’s Auditor General, in his report presented to the nation’s House of Commons. However, it needs to improve key aspects of its surveillance of aviation companies.

“Though Canada has an excellent aviation safety track record, Transport Canada needs to be diligent in its oversight of the safety systems of aviation companies” said Ferguson.

Like many other national regulators, Transport Canada has moved to an approach that puts the onus on large aviation companies to develop safety management systems in accordance with regulations, while the Department oversees their compliance.

The audit found that while some aspects of surveillance are working well, there are weaknesses in how Transport Canada plans, conducts, and reports on its surveillance activities. For example, in 2010–11, only about two thirds of planned inspections were completed—which is significant, since only the higher-risk companies and operations are selected for inspection in any given year. Most inspections did not fully comply with established methodology, and were subject to little management oversight.

“Transport Canada has made progress in moving to a new regulatory framework,” said Ferguson. “Now, it must resolve the significant weaknesses in surveillance that we identified.”

He said that while some aspects of the new surveillance programme are working well, there are weaknesses in critical areas. For example, information for assessing the risk indicators that Transport Canada uses to identify the high-risk aviation companies that should be inspected is not always available or kept up to date.

A minimum acceptable level of surveillance has not been clearly established to indicate how long aviation companies can operate without being inspected, and only two thirds of planned inspections have been carried out. Most inspections are not fully conducted according to established methodology and are subject to little management oversight. In addition, documentation of key decisions is weak. Finally, Transport Canada lacks a quality assurance programme to continuously improve its surveillance programme.

Posted in Airlines, CAAs/ANSPs, News, Reports, Safety

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