Canada becomes a safety dunce.

by | 2023-12-18

ICAO gives Canada a C grade (64%) in air safety.

Let’s be clear: the only way to truly punctual efficiency of flight safety is to count the number of accident over flight hours. Granted, this is rather cold as a statement but nonetheless reflects on reality however unpleasant it is to explain.

However, professional observation of practices and trends studied by a recognized and venerable organization such as ICAO should attract our attention.

And so last week, ICAO, following a leaked “confidential” report produced every 5 years, has downgraded Canada’s flight safety grade from A+ to a mediocre C. This is barely a passing mark.

It is noteworthy to know that ICAO monitors all its member countries on subjects ranging from flight operations (airlines and general aviation), airports (private not for “profit” organizations) to air navigation (in this case private “not for profit” corporation NavCanada).

Canada’s transport minister’s reply

The reply from the transport minister was instantaneous. it is rather ironic that the minister’s response was so swift considering what Transport Canada serves as extraordinary administrative delays to all users in its aviation branch these days.

The response eloquently praises the excellent flight safety that Canada demonstrates. The proof is in the pudding? One simply counts major accident occurrences that we can deplore in the recent years. No one can contradict this fact.

Nonetheless, in our environment we know far too well, thanks to the simple James Reason’s swiss cheese slices model. One of those slices just got a very large hole bored into itself.

But hey, it is cheaper to run!

We can affirm that Transport Canada responsibility demobilization has not occurred over night. For decades now massive budget compressions were justified by coining terms such “self regulation” and “safety management system” though quite progressive in itself.

Airlines which have to way more to loose in this spiral dive defend themselves rather well. Think about it: passenger confidence (and revenues) are secured firmly with the absence of any accident. With reason, pro-active safety within our excellent airlines is excellent proof. Insurance companies probably have some form of influence in this safety system.

As far as air navigation is concerned, we know the outlines. There is a flagrant systemic personnel shortage at NavCanada. Because of this shortage, Class C airspace is often denied to “lowly” young aviators flight training. Unwitting pilots are refused VFR flight following, often accompanied with verbal reprimand that the service is not offered. Too much flying south of the border provokes these wild requests … Toss in the controllers fatigue factor and nothing good will come out of this.

Scholarly explanation flourish: the recent pandemic and why not climate change? Here is Canada’s province of Quebec the government’s electric utility monopoly used this argument coincidently last week to justify yet another extended power loss in the Montreal region following a snowfall. Apparently, trees grow too fast (link in French) and the corporation cannot keep up with collapsing branches growing around power lines. This is the kind of argument to expect from shaky mastery.

But I digress, let’s get back on track.

And our airports having a hard time to follow ICAO standards. Of course, they follow Transport Regulations in their domain of competence. Happily, this provides administrative peace of mind. One only observes runway 24L at Toronto Pearson airport. Following AF358 catastrophic runway over run on August 2, 2005 there is still no EMAS (engineered material arresting surface) installed. The runway area presents the geographical constraint of an imposing ditch at the runway end. Historically, ICAO standards were never meant but could have been mitigated with EMAS. Thankfully, Transport Canada regulation is respected…

Flight safety investments never produce financial profits or dividends.

On its own side Transport Canada is horribly loosing its abilities despite well formatted declarations. The ministry staggers so much to produce regular medical certificates or its licences booklets that it produced explanatory documents for foreign authorities to justify the delays in producing recognizable official documents.

Try to explain this a friendly FAA inspector on a random ramp check, that your licence booklet renewal was sent 4 months ago or that medical “sticker” is being processed more than the required regulatory 90 days period (3 months).

Let’s come back home. The general off hand approach for GA could be much more chaotic. Thanks to our recency requirement regulation (CAR 421.05) in place one can maintain her or his competency. Transport Canada produces indeed a very good aviation safety letter. There one can answer a 20 questions quiz in order to qualify for the regulation. for one comfort, the quiz’s answer are provided at the end of the safety letter, printed upside down for the challenge.

Let’s face it: nobody appreciates being regulated and nobody appreciates the regulation surveillance. But human nature reality strikes always. The law of minimum efforts prevails. By contrast in the USA, the recency requirements demand a full flight review every two years.

More for less?

One can argue against the minimum effort rule. Please observe how Boeing behaved as the FAA unloaded it’s responsibilities for aircraft certification programs. Boeing, a most reputable corporation, known for its “bomb proof” procedural and safety culture. There it is: every one noticed the 737 Max debacle. A file yet not so complicated to manage.

Canada has gone too far in off loading its responsibilities in matters of flight safety. One wants to save the ever thinner budgets. The irony brought forward in ICAO’s findings changes nothing in the validity of the leaked report. Tragically for us in Canada any other ministries are muddied up in unprecedented fiascos. Transport Canada is unfortunately is no exception despite the rare remaining personnel efforts.

The difference here is that we have here clear indictions, thanks to ICAO, that flight safety conditions are deteriorating. The Emmental slices of Reason’s model will no longer be required to recognize impending problems. Accidents will occur and sadly flight safety will then be measurable.

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