Whitehorse Star: Northern Air Safety Needs Improving, MPs Say
August 8, 2012
Olivia Chow, the NDP Transport critic, and Denis Bevington, the party’s Northern Development critic, held a press conference in Yellowknife last month.
In an interview later that day, Chow called air service in the North an “essential service,” noting that northerners rely on air transport for “food, shelter, and to get to work.”
Both Chow’s and Bevington’s concerns about air service in the North are far-reaching, ranging from a paper driven, inefficient Safety Management System to unpaved, too-short runways.
“The Safety Management System right now is slow, expensive, unaccountable, and the airlines are quite unhappy because when they submit a change on safety practice, it takes almost a year for them to receive approval,” said Chow.
“The system is paper-driven, and there are not enough pilots and mechanics to do the inspection, according to the Auditor General.”
Bevington added that “in many cases, they have to continue to do things in a fashion when they’ve determined there’s a safer way but they can’t get the paperwork done in a timely fashion to get it instituted within their safety manuals.”
Mandatory use of a Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) is something else both NDP critics would like to see enforced.
An article in the Canada Gazette says TAWS “provide aural and visual alerts to flight crews when the path of the aircraft is predicted to collide with terrain, water or obstacles allowing the flight crew sufficient time to take evasive action.”
Chow said the Transportation Safety Board recommended using TAWS 16years ago. While the government has made a recommendation to make the systems mandatory, in July an announcement was made that the systems would be phased in between two and five years.
Chow noted that the U.S. made TAWS mandatory in 2000, and most European countries have also enforced its use.
In a response to queries regarding TAWS implementation in Canada, Maryse Durette, a spokesperson for Transport Canada said, “On July 4,2012, Transport Canada announced new regulations, requiring the installation and use of TAWS, which will increase safety by preventing airplane collisions with terrain, water or obstacles.”
“Transport Canada’s implementation date for these regulations reflects our regulatory process, the need for additional technical enhancements tailored for the colder Canadian climate (especially in Canada’s Northern areas) and requests for additional time from the Canadian aviation industry,” she said.
The need for improved infrastructure on the ground was another concern for the NDP.
Both Bevington and Chow said northern airports need longer, paved airstrips. “Many of the planes that are being used now require longer landing strips and the 3,000 feet which is the standard from many years ago is not adequate in many cases, might need 5,000 feet,” said Bevington.
“Unlike Alaska, where almost every runway is paved, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, most of the small runways are not paved, so that limits the kinds of planes you can use.
“Even major airports like Cambridge Bay, unpaved,” Bevington added, noting that situations arise where only one type of jet is certified to land on unpaved runways.“These things are all adding to the cost and to the degree of safety that airlines can provide in the North.”
Durette said in her statement that “Transport Canada has put in place an action plan, and has a number of initiatives already underway, which will allow the department to improve its systems, processes and tools, as well as ensure that resources are targeted to areas of highest risk.
“For example, the department is putting in place a follow-up process to address complex safety issues in a timelier manner.”
“Canada has one of the safest aviation systems in the world and Transport Canada is continuing its work to improve that record,” said Durette. “During the last decade, we have seen a considerable decline in the accident rate. In fact, the total number of yearly accidents is at record lows.”