Wings Magazine

Transport Canada under fire to address floatplane safety

Nov. 1, 2013, Vancouver - A federal Transportation Safety Board report Wednesday into a fatal float plane crash in Ontario is putting renewed pressure on Transport Canada to address long-standing safety issues raised in B.C. that could save lives.

November 1, 2013  By The Vancouver Sun

A Cochrane Air Service de Havilland Beaver float plane stalled in flight, crashed and flipped over following an aborted landing on May 25, 2012 at Lillabelle Lake, north of Timmins. All three people survived the initial crash, but only one escaped the partly submerged aircraft; the other two drowned.


The TSB urges Transport Canada to require underwater egress training for all flight crews engaged in commercial float plane operations and that all commercial float planes certified for nine or fewer passengers be fully fitted with seat belts that include shoulder harnesses.



The board said the recommendations “build on” earlier TSB recommendations from B.C. after the Nov. 29, 2009 crash of a Richmond-based Seair Beaver float plane in Lyall Harbour, off Saturna Island, that killed six passengers, including a doctor and her infant daughter. The pilot and one other passenger survived with serious injuries despite the risk of drowning outside the aircraft.


Float planes are especially common in B.C., with about 33,000 movements annually, carrying 300,000 passengers at Vancouver harbour alone. A TSB report in March 2011 into the Seair crash recommended that passengers on all commercial float planes in Canada be required to wear life vests, while the planes themselves should be fitted with easily opened emergency exits.


In a phone interview, TSB chair Wendy Tadros said Transport Canada has said it is committed to regulatory aviation amendments related to mandatory use of life vests during flights and to mandatory egress training for pilots.


But federal movement to mandate shoulder harnesses for passengers on older float planes such as the Beaver – widely used in B.C. – and improvements related to float plane doors and windows is proving more difficult.


“If we put those four improvements in place you’ll be increasing the probability of people surviving a crash,” she said.


During the last 20 years, about 70 per cent of float plane crash victims died from drowning.


Transport Minister Lisa Raitt declined The Vancouver Sun’s request for an interview.

Her department said in a statement that Ottawa is “committed to investigating safety improvement, such as the operation of emergency exits and push out windows.”


She noted the department “assesses each application to install push out windows on a case-by-case basis because the design approved on one aircraft may not provide the same level of safety on another model. For each case, the department must confirm that the installation does not compromise the overall safety of the aircraft.”


In B.C., several float plane companies have adopted the TSB’s safety recommendations on a voluntarily basis, including requiring passengers to wear life vests in flight.


Harbour Air, B.C.’s largest float plane company, notably does not. The company also owns Westcoast Air and Whistler Air.


Tadros said the B.C. situation shows that “voluntary compliance doesn’t work and that you need a level playing field, the same rules for all in the float plane industry so everyone is clear on what’s required.”


Harbour Air spokesman Michael Lowry said in a statement the company’s flight crew and senior staff undergo underwater egress training and that passengers have access to instructional videos and pamphlets before takeoff.


“We work closely with Transport Canada and carefully consider all TSB recommendations,” he said, without explaining why the company doesn’t require life vests during flights.

In B.C., the industry formed the Floatplane Operators Association after a total of 22 people died in four crashes between August 2008 and May 2010.



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