Transport Canada admits safety inspector shortage
Nov. 28, 2012, Ottawa - Transport Canada admitted Tuesday it is short of nearly 100 inspectors whose job is to check for safety problems at air carriers.
November 28, 2012 By The Vancouver Sun
Senior officials acknowledged the department is having a hard time filling all 880 positions, with about 100 posts for inspectors vacant.
Meanwhile, Auditor General Michael Ferguson, also testifying before the House of Commons public accounts committee about oversight of Canada's civil aviation system, complained Transport Canada's own national human resources plan does not specify the number of inspectors and engineers that are needed. Ferguson noted the department agreed to provide these figures in response to his office's 2008 audit, but Transport Canada has still not done so.
Associate deputy minister Anita Biguzs tried to play down this, saying the department regularly updates its staffing plans. "We feel like with the numbers that we have, that is sufficient to meet requirements of the program," Biguzs said of the 880 inspection positions.
Opposition parties weren't satisfied. "Clearly, that puts the safety of Cana-ians in danger. We're about 100 short and the response was unsatisfactory," NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat.
"First off, they are short on the 880 and we don't know what 880 is based on," added Liberal MP Gerry Byrne.
When pressed by opposition parties on this question, Gerard McDonald, Transport Canada's assistant deputy minister of safety and security, said the department will table by next year an analysis of staffing needs for civil aviation as part of its national human resources plan. He also defended Transport Canada's recruitment efforts in the civil aviation branch.
"We have the same amount of positions, but in an organization this large, there's a regular turnover of people, so the total number of positions are not always filled," said McDonald, who appeared alongside Biguzs to respond to Ferguson's latest audit on Transport Canada's oversight of civil aviation, released earlier this year.
In B.C., there have been long-standing concerns over Transport Canada's monitoring of aircraft maintenance operations. A federal transportation safety board report into the Sept. 17, 2005, crash of an Enstrom 280C helicopter in Duncan that killed the pilot and one passenger found the helicopter "was not serviced or maintained in accordance with existing regulations and, as a result, maintenance actions to correct serious engine-driven fuel pump defects were not completed."
The board added: "Transport Canada did not inspect the company (A & L Maintenance) performing maintenance on the accident helicopter within the … specified three years, resulting in a missed opportunity to learn that maintenance had not been performed in accordance with Canadian regulations."
The latest audit notes that Canada compares favorably with many other countries in its aviation safety record. For example, last year, Canada saw the total number of accidents decline to the lowest recorded figure in modern aviation history, despite increases in air traffic; the accident rate in 2011 – fewer than six accidents per 100,000 hours flown – represented a 25 per cent improvement from a decade earlier.
Still, Ferguson's 2012 audit found that the regulator failed to conduct planned inspections of hundreds of aviation companies designated as "higher risk" operations. The audit found that only 67 per cent of air carriers, maintenance companies and large airports were inspected, as they should have been, under annual surveillance plans in 2010-11. This represents about 500 companies.
Under Transport Canada's surveillance plan, aviation companies designated as "high risk" must be inspected at least once a year.
"That is significant considering that only the companies and the operational areas of higher risk are to be selected for inspection in any given year," Ferguson testified Tuesday.
Following this testimony, Byrne asked McDonald and Biguzs how many civil aviation companies are currently designated as "high risk." On both occasions, the officials declined to answer.
After the meeting, Byrne called the non-response "contemptible."
He added: "It's an actual categorization that puts them in a slot – they must be inspected on an annual basis. That's a pretty straightforward and simple answer to provide a Parliamentary committee. They refused to provide it."