McCarthy: The SMS Reality

Drew McCarthy
September 27, 2007
Written by
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.

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