Canadian Aviation Catastrophe “Likely” following Budget Cuts

May 8, 2017
Abram I. Bohrer

The airplane accident lawyers at Bohrer & Lukeman are closely following the events surrounding a series of budget cuts to Transport Canada, which have been slowly debilitating its civil aviation flying program. According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data, these cuts have become so severe that 81 per cent of the country’s federal pilot inspectors now believe a “major aviation accident in the near future is likely.”

“The opinions of this expert group show that Transport Canada’s aviation safety oversight has gone terribly wrong,” said Captain Greg McConnell, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association’s National Chair.

The CFPA, which commissioned the survey, found that inspectors also felt impeded by the institution of Transport Canada’s Safety Management Systems program. SMS not only puts airlines in charge of establishing their own acceptable levels of risk and safety monitoring, they say, but also places a heavy administrative burden on federal inspectors, who now find themselves spending more time reviewing paperwork than inspecting aircraft.

67 per cent of the federal inspectors and investigators that were surveyed had not piloted an aircraft in the past year. 25 per cent had not flown in the last four years, the minimum requirement to maintain one’s license.

“Flying is a skill that atrophies,” stated McConnell.

“Today, the pace of technological change is as rapid in aviation as it is in any other walk of life. If our inspectors do not know how to fly the aircraft they’re supposed to inspect, they simply will not know the aircraft are operating safely.

“Having aviation inspectors who do not know how to fly the aircraft that they’re inspecting is like having a traffic cop who doesn’t know how to drive a car.”

According to the CFPA, the budget for Canada’s civil aviation flying program has dropped from $8 million in 2008-09 to just $3.5 million in 2016-17. Training budgets have been slashed, leading to 70 per cent of inspectors reporting that they are “sometimes or frequently” assigned tasks for which that have not received training. Only 55 per cent currently employed have completed all of the mandatory training.

In addition, Transport Canada has struggled to keep up with its SMS reports. According to internal documents, only 50 per cent of its planned assessments for 2016-17 have been completed.

Natasha Gauthier, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, responded to the survey results by asserting “Canada has one of the safest aviation systems in the world… [Transport Canada] has a robust, risk-based oversight program that allows the department to prioritize its resources strategically to areas that provide the greatest safety benefit.”

However, the CFPA has stated that Transport Canada’s SMS programs are “at odds with international safety requirements” as established by the United National International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Abacus Data survey was conducted from March 14th to March 22nd, 2017. It received completed responses from 243 CFPA members, including federal inspectors, investigators, and licensed pilots, for a response rate of 64%.

“This is terrifying news for our Canadian friends,” commented aviation attorney Abe Bohrer, who has represented numerous Canadian citizens injured during the course of commercial aviation. “There is no margin for error in commercial aviation. Pilots and administrators need to be trained, prepared and equipped to deal with all potential in-flight situations, and they achieve that ability by training in a properly supervised and funded infrastructure.”

The aviation accident attorneys at Bohrer & Lukeman will continue to monitor the events surrounding the CFPA pilot inspector survey and will report any new information. Bohrer & Lukeman is a New York-based aircraft accident law-firm with years of experience representing clients involved in general and commercial aviation crashes. Abe Bohrer, the firm’s founder, has successfully represented clients domestically and internationally.