Airline Safety Regulations Questioned

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 12:55



Some questions are being raised about new safety regulations for Canadian airlines, following a recent report on a fatal plane crash in northern Saskatchewan.


The regulations under question are titled Safety Management Systems, or SMS, and Transport Canada begn implenting them in 2005.


They essentially gives airlines management over their own safety procedures.


Government inspectors then assess those procedures and determine how effective they truly are.


However, the system was recently criticized at a recent hearing of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications.


Dennis Bevington is the MP for Yellowknife, and a member of that committee.


Bevington says that under the new system, Transport Canada officials do their inspections from government offices, rather than on the runway.


“They’ve reduced the inspections. They’ve made the inspections a paper exercise, where the inspectors only look at the reports on SMS that are filed by the companies, rather than going out and inspecting the operation firsthand, as they’ve done in the past,” he says.


That argument is shared by Debbie Wolsey, the widow of a pilot who died in the crash of a Transwest Air plane at Sandy Bay in 2007.


An investigation determined that confusion in the cockpit between Rick Wolsey and his co-pilot led to the tragedy.


However, Wolsey says the incident wouldn’t have happened had traditional oversight from Transport Canada been in place.


Wolsey also feels some groups have tried to smear her husband’s reputation, instead of focusing on deficiencies in the new system.


“If they had followed through with the SMS, then Rick would be here today, because his concerns wouldn’t have been falling on deaf ears. It would have had to follow through to Transport Canada, and they would have had to folow through with his safety concerns,” she says.


Meanwhile, one of the co-owners of Transwest Air doesn’t share that opinion.


Jim Glass says SMS is a formalized approach to dealing with risk, and has greatly enhanced his company’s ability to monitor its own operations.


Glass says if Transport Canada detects problems with a company’s system, it can re-audit it anyway.


“It’s not new to the world — it’s new to aviation, but it’s basically a proven safety system that’s being driven down into Canadian aviation operations by Transport Canada. I think it’s a good thing for the industry, and if anybody’s indicating otherwise, they really don’t understand it, would be my opinion,” he says.


Glass says Transwest made changes to their operating procedures, and incorporated recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board, within six months of the crash.


He adds that after 31 years in the aviation business, he wouldn’t want to run an airline without SMS in place.


Transport Canada said through an email that SMS will help save lives by increasing focus on prevention.