Raising the bar
By David Carr
Last year’s Canadian Business Aviation Association’s (CBAA) convention and exhibition in Edmonton experienced a 60 per cent increase in operator attendance. Rudy Toering, CBAA chief executive, sat down with Wings to discuss advocacy, changes at Transport Canada (TC) and plans for the upcoming conference June 16-18 at Avfuel H-18 St. Hubert in Montreal.
By David Carr
Except for the oil and gas industries, Canada is riding an economic rebound. Fuel prices are low. Is this a good time for corporate aviation in this country?
Business is good for us. There is a tremendous amount of increased business for our members, especially internationally. We are seeing similar growth in the United States. There has been an uptick in the longer range, larger cabin aircraft in combination with an increase in the mid-to-small aircraft to serve the Canadian community.
There are a lot of negatives going on in the oil industry, and it is impacting the national economy. From a business aviation perspective there has been some impact such as usage of aircraft in provinces that have been affected by the industry. But many of our members operate in multiple energy/business sectors.
Of the very small aircraft – especially with jets – there has been a stall on acquisitions. That has a lot to do with the regulatory environment.
What is it about regulations surrounding small aircraft operators that is holding the sector back?
Regulations and criteria surrounding the registration, operation and ownership of those airplanes have to be scalable to the size of the operation. When a single pilot goes out, he is flying his own airplane, he hires out maintenance and different consultants to help him do things. He does not have the same type of regulatory demand a larger operator would have on the commercial side.
Many of the regulations and Safety Management Systems (SMS) documentations are written for larger departments who have the internal resources to manage those departments. That is one of the big items we are working on with TC; we need to ensure that regulations are scalable to small aircraft operations. And we are working with our operators to remove the red tape for them.
The CAR604 private sector has an exceptional safety record and we need to make it attractive for operators to operate to that standard. Today, that is not the case. As a matter of fact, these operators are looking at ways to exit 604.
It’s an interesting point. The CBAA has a very diverse membership with different airplanes and different operator profiles. Do you prioritize the files you are working on or is every file treated equally?
I wouldn’t say we prioritize them. We work closely with TC and the Minister of Transport. We continue to ensure, for example, that 604 regulations are a working solution for our members. We have an exemption that allows us to continue to operate as we are with previous 604 regulations, and we continue to work closely on an agreed way forward with the Minister’s office and TC.
So would you say the CBAA is moving the regulatory needle forward?
We have moved the needle a hell of a long way forward because the whole emphasis for us is we walk the walk. Look at what we have done with the Partners in Safety program (to ensure that CBAA members have access to the right tools to comply with current safety regulations that are practical, cost-effective and scalable to operations of all sizes). The fact Bombardier and NAV CANADA are supporting our Partners in Safety program is a good indication that we are doing something right.
We are one of the only countries in the world that has a regulated requirement for SMS. Europe doesn’t have one yet and the United States doesn’t have one.
Business aviation in Canada is the safest sector in the industry worldwide. In Canada, we have a performance and safety culture that we have been building on since 2002. Regulators need to look at that and recognize that the performance-based approach we have operated under for many years has worked extremely well and that we do not need prescriptive regulations to maintain safety. As a matter of fact, an SMS culture demands that operators take responsibility for their operations. Our operators are doing that.
I attended nine of the 12 604 meetings we held across Canada. Members came up to me and said, “We appreciate you being here to speak on our behalf and share what the CBAA expectations of TC have been an what is actually happening.” Those 604 sessions were as beneficial for TC regional operations across the country as they were for our members.
Do you see a day when you can yank the regulatory chain back to self-regulation?
The Private Operators’ Certificate (POC) approvals process is a thing of the past. It was an excellent, performance-based approach to our sector. There are probably things we could have done differently, and that TC and the government could have done differently. But that is history. Our goal now is to provide advocacy for our members and to make sure we aren’t burdened with enormous regulations. We are already the most regulated worldwide in this sector. We work with our members to make sure they are fully onboard with the safety approach we have taken. My impression is that our members are appreciative and accepting of the direction we are taking.
There have been changes announced at TC. Martin J. Eley (director general, civil aviation) has retired and the agency has appointed two director generals.
I wish Martin all the best in his retirement. He has dedicated many years to TC and has earned a well-deserved retirement. Aaron McCorie (in charge of the aviation safety regulatory framework) and Denis Guindon (head of aviation safety and oversight) are well known and respected within our organization. Merlin Preuss (CBAA’s vice-president of government and regulatory affairs) has worked with both these men continually over the years and we are already seeing some good indications of the genuine willingness to consider alternatives and listen to our experts.
So you see a benefit in splitting TC’s director general function in two.
If it addresses TC’s ability to focus on performance-based solutions and addresses service levels for our members, absolutely. When one of our [aircraft] management companies gets a new airplane, for example, one of the benefits they advertise to the owner is to get the airplane operating for them very quickly. Registering that airplane is supposed to be a one- to two-day process under the new regulations. If that airplane sits on the ground for 90 days, that is unacceptable.
In the United States, they can probably get that same airplane up and running in a week. In the Cayman Islands it can be up and running in four days. Our safety record for business aviation does not warrant placing our operators in a non-competitive position.
The length of time it takes to register an airplane continues to be a frustration for some operators. Is that a regional problem?
TC is a big company. There are leaders in Ottawa and there are regional leaders across the country. The responsibility to make sure those regional leaders are well informed and operating in harmony lies in Ottawa. That is where the direction needs to come from and in a timely fashion.
The regions need to be saying the same thing and applying the same rules and processes across the board. Obviously TC and the Minister have taken the steps to ensure that the regions are in tune with Ottawa central.
Do your members understand the behind the scenes work that you do on their behalf?
Most of them do and they also appreciate the internal communications we’ve been doing. We continue to get support and advice from our members. We recently held two cross-Canada members-only conference calls and had over 100 members on the line. There was a trust and responsibility placed on the CBAA that we need to maintain. It we are not successful in our work with TC our members may drive us to alternative approaches. I continue to push for the collaborative and subject matter decision-making approach. That is the preferred solution.
Last year in Edmonton, we had an increase of 60 per cent attending our convention and exhibition, mainly attributed to the lack of trust and confidence our operators had for TC. We want to build on that attendance in Montreal. We are very upbeat about the location. The cooperation from St. Hubert Airport has been fantastic.
The heart and soul of this convention is to deliver value to the operators and associate members and to ensure that it is a place where we will have face-to-face and frank discussions with TC and the government.