Reduced aviation safety oversight by the Canadian government last year led to a significant spike in accidents and incidents involving commercial airlines, commuter aircraft and air taxi services, warns Canada’s professional pilot community.
“Transport Canada’s cuts to aviation safety oversight may be largely invisible to most Canadians but they are having an impact that is increasingly apparent and worrying,” said Greg McConnell, national chair of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association.
He said Transport Canada’s systematic dismantling of aviation safety oversight has accelerated in recent years due to budget shortfalls and pointed to figures released by the country’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) that show that Canadian aviation last year was marred by a sharp increase in accidents and incidents involving those airlines that carry the most passengers.
McConnell added that the TSB also reported a ‘sobering’ rise in the number of incidents involving Canadian aircraft which jumped almost 10 per cent to 921 from 833 in 2016 which is 25 per cent higher than the five-year average.
Among several other serious aviation accidents and incidents that have taken place recently are two that stand out, both involving Air Canada jets.
On July 7, Air Canada 759 came within a few dozen feet of crashing into four jets on the ground full of people and fuel after the pilot mistakenly lined up to land on a taxiway.
“The worst aviation accident ever was averted by seconds. And just a few weeks ago, only a terrain avoidance warning system (TAWS) prevented an Air Canada Rouge jetliner from slamming into a mountainside on approach to Huatulco (Mexico).”
“These data, especially the sharp increase in incidents, tell me a major accident is coming,” McConnell said.
He said licensed pilots who work for Transport Canada as aviation inspectors have added their support to his assessment. “An Abacus Data survey of these inspectors in April 2017 revealed eight-in-ten (81 per cent) inspectors surveyed predicted a major aviation accident in the near future, according to the survey.”
McConnell traced the deterioration in aviation safety back to 2016 when Transport Canada cut back its oversight programme ‘whole sectors at a time’. “For example, urban heliports such as those atop of many big city hospitals will no longer be subject to scheduled inspections. And, all airports will no longer be subject to full safety assessments.”
He said that instead, a Transport Canada inspection will now cover only one small part of an airport’s safety plan. “By comparison, the US Federal Aviation Administration requires full inspections of airports annually. Business aircraft, like the aircraft former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice died in, have not been subject to Transport Canada safety oversight for several years.” He added that most recently, the safety regulator handed off checking the skills and competencies of commercial pilots to the airlines.
* Meanwhile EASA’s 2018-2022 European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS) now includes what the agency calls a “rulemaking cooldown.” which will reduce the number of regulations issued over the next five years.
EASA executive director Patrick Ky said: “Safety actions need to be co-ordinated more than ever at regional and international levels, which explains the growing role played by regional safety oversight organisations in the field of aviation and the pivotal activity of EASA in this domain.”