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McCarthy: The SMS Reality

Reservations persist


September 27, 2007
By Stacy Bradshaw


Topics

The adoption of safety management systems (SMS) in Canadian aviation
hit the mainstream media last month. Evidence presented to the Standing
Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN) made news
in several Canadian newspapers. The message delivered to the public was
singular and worrisome. The headline from the Vancouver Sun read,
“Canada gets air safety warning,” and from the Globe and Mail, “Ottawa
urged to improve airline safety systems.”

While
the SMS component of the proposed amendments embodied in Bill C-6 is
only one of a number of proposed changes that TRAN is reviewing, it’s
the one that’s getting all of the attention.

The newspapers
focused on comments by the Hon. Virgil Moshansky who appeared before
the committee on Feb. 28. (Moshansky headed the inquiry into the 1989
Air Ontario crash near Dryden, Ont.) In the Vancouver Sun article,
Moshansky was quoted as saying, “Regulatory oversight is not being
merely reduced. Except for limited focused audits, it is being
systematically dismantled.”

A week earlier, the Canadian Federal
Pilots Association (CFPA), the group that represents the approximately
375 licensed pilots employed by Transport Canada as civil aviation
inspectors, appeared before the committee while issuing a press release
the same day criticizing the amendments.

Greg Holbrook, national
chair of the CFPA told the committee that the CFPA has serious
reservations about Bill C-6 and SMS. Holbrook maintains that Transport
Canada has achieved acceptable levels of aviation safety with its
system of checks and balances and regulatory oversight carried out by
its inspectors. Bill C-6 and SMS, he says, set out to switch safety
levels from what is acceptable to what is affordable.

In its
press release, the CFPA announced that 74 per cent of safety inspectors
think a major aviation accident or incident is likely to occur in
Canada in the near future and 61 per cent believe a new approach to
regulating the industry will actually increase this likelihood. The
explicit message is that flying in Canada is … well … probably
dangerous. The implicit message is, of course, forget about SMS and
hire more inspectors.

Meanwhile, Canada’s largest commercial
airline pilot group, the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA), is on
record as supporting the introduction of SMS for commercial aviation.

“We
understand that the rationale for the bill is to enhance the safety of
Canada’s aviation system and we believe that SMS is an important
advance in this area,” said Capt. Brian Boucher, senior director of
flight safety for the ACPA.

ACPA members spend a lot of their
time in the air and their position on SMS comes with a great deal of
credibility. Bill C-6 will likely be passed by the end of this session
of Parliament. SMS will be a full reality and our collective goal
should be to ensure its success and to assure the public that industry
and government are fully in charge of their safety.