By James Careless
Once upon a time, Transport Canada (TC) helped certificate holders large and small to operate safely. TC did this by sending inspectors to these certificate holders who would check out each carrier’s procedures and processes in order to ensure safe operations.
By James Careless
Once upon a time, Transport Canada (TC) helped certificate holders large and small to operate safely. TC did this by sending inspectors to these certificate holders who would check out each carrier’s procedures and processes in order to ensure safe operations. “In those instances where there was a problem, Transport Canada would alert the certificate holder and tell them to fix it,” says Dennis Taboada, CEO and president of DTI Training. “Once the problem was fixed, the certificate holder alerted Transport Canada, and that was that.”
|DTI’s Dennis and Sol Taboada; Transport Canada has hired DTI to retrain TC inspectors in their new SMS roles.
“For aircraft operators, this arrangement was a boon,” says Sol Taboada, DTI Training’s executive training co-ordinator (and Dennis’s older brother). “Essentially, Transport Canada was acting as their Quality Control auditor, at no charge to the operators!”
Then, things changed. Strapped by a shrinking workforce, tight budgets, and an ever-growing Canadian aviation industry, Transport Canada decided to make certificate holders responsible for their own audits by establishing the Safety Management Systems (SMS) program. “Under SMS, each aviation operator has to do its own quality control internally, with its procedures being governed by and reviewed against Transport Canada’s rules,” says Dennis. “But quality control isn’t enough: Under SMS, certificate holders have to do Quality Assurance (QA). This goes beyond spotting problems and fixing them. QA means defining and writing down your procedures in all aspects of business – from aircraft maintenance to ticket selling – such that TC inspectors can review them for compliance and completeness.”
How this tale ends depends on your point of view. If you are a change-resistant certificate holder already battling hard times, rising prices and government paperwork, the logical conclusion is a slow descent into workaholic madness. But if you are a calm certificate holder able to see opportunity when it arises, then this story has a happy ending: With the help of training courses being conducted by DTI Training across Canada – coincidentally, Transport Canada has hired DTI to retrain TC inspectors in their new SMS roles – certificate holders can not only comply with the new SMS/QA standards, but use the process to make their businesses more efficient and profitable.
DTI Training’s Seminars
During this summer, DTI Training has been travelling the country, conducting three-day SMS/QA seminars. The company also conducts seminars by appointment for larger certificate holders, or for groups of smaller holders who band together in a given location.
In all instances, the learning process is the same. “We bring people into the classroom, and use plain and clear language to walk them through the SMS/QA process,” says Sol. “We also have them bring in SMS/QA problems and issues that they are already facing, so that we can help them work through them.” By working through examples, flow charts, and grappling with the SMS/QA issues of their students, the Taboada brothers help certificate holders to stop fearing SMS/QA, and learn to love the process.
Wait a Minute…
Yes, you read that last sentence right. With the right knowledge and application, it is possible to learn to love the SMS/QA process. The reason? “By requiring certificate holders to take on Quality Assurance themselves, Transport Canada is actually giving them an accurate view into their own operations,” Dennis says. “By getting such a view, companies can not only ensure that their operations are more efficient and economical, but that they are working towards their ultimate corporate goal – namely making money.”
“I like to ask people during our seminars why they went into the aviation business,” says Sol. “After they give me the usual politically correct reasons – ‘I wanted to be a good pilot,’ or ‘I wanted to provide a public service’ – I come back and tell them, ‘No. You went into business to make money. And that’s okay.’” This is where establishing internal QA makes a difference. When a company has to write down and then analyze its procedures from start to finish, its managers can readjust those procedures to make them more efficient and cost-effective. “Don’t laugh; there can be big money involved when you do this,” says Sol. “In one case, we found a 705 carrier that was wasting $150,000 a year, simply because two of its departments were using procedures that conflicted with each other. Once they started doing their own internal QA, this conflict was spotted and eliminated. Boom: $150,000 saved – more than setting up QA ever cost them.”
“Having your procedures properly defined and followed also keeps you in Transport Canada’s good books,” adds Dennis. “This makes sense; Transport Canada doesn’t have the manpower to handhold the industry anymore. If your company gets high marks during an SMS/QA audit – we’re talking 3s to 5s in each rated category – then the government will spend less time focusing on you, and put its resources elsewhere.”
On the flip side, Transport Canada will not tolerate companies who either do not get their SMS/QA systems in place, or try to cut corners by pretending that they have done so. “In the first instance, TC has given certificate holders more time to get SMS/QA going, because the aviation industry is struggling with this change,” says Sol. “In the second, the government is going to hit people who fake compliance 10 times harder than they did before. There is too much at stake with the SMS system, in terms of ensuring public and staff safety, to allow fraudsters to stay in business.”
SMS/QA is Doable for Everyone
One last myth that the Taboada brothers dispel during their SMS/QA training seminars is that only the “big guys” can manage to meet SMS/QA regulations. “70 per cent of Canadian certificate holders are small companies, and Transport Canada knows this,” says Sol. “As a result, there is no expectation that such companies will produce hundreds of pages of procedures; a notebook’s worth will often do.”
As for internal QA auditing? “Under the rule, an auditor cannot belong to the department being audited,” says Dennis. “But that’s really no problem: Have your maintenance guy audit Operations, and your operations guy audit Maintenance. Now you’re compliant!”
On a larger scale, the degree of management intelligence provided by SMS/QA helps certificate holders know what is going on in their companies. “Things go wrong in any business when the people running it don’t understand what’s happening,” says Sol. “With SMS/QA in place, this is far less likely to happen: The process requires you to be informed to maintain it. By being informed, you can make better business decisions.”
The Moral of the Story
The main message out there is that SMS/QA is nothing to be scared of. You don’t need an MBA to follow the rules. You don’t need a whole new lexicon of jargon to understand them. And you don’t need to hire a phalanx of lawyers and accountants to manage the SMS/QA process internally.
“As the people who are training Transport Canada’s SMS/QA inspectors and certificate holders who have to follow these rules, we are uniquely positioned to know what’s going on,” says Sol. “We can help Canadian companies learn to meet these requirements, and to prosper by doing so. That’s a win-win for everyone, and that’s what SMS/QA is all about.”