Transport Canada to take back POC/CAR604 from CBAA

Gulfstream G150 at YYC (Calgary AB).

Operators who fall under Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 604 are again about to see a big change in the way their interests are managed and administered.

On Mar 16, Canadian Minister of Transportation John Baird announced that responsibility for this sector would be taken away from the Canadian Business Aviation Assoc­iation (CBAA) and returned to Transport Canada (TC).

The announcement stunned the business aviation community. CBAA’s Private Operator Certificate (POC) program was an industry first and when introduced was heralded as the shape of things to come for bizav ops worldwide..

Taking the program back represents a major reversal in the way corporate op­er­ators obtain and manage certification, set up and run their flight operations. In making the formal announcement, Baird stated that TC will take back certification and oversight functions for business aviation effective Apr 1, 2011.

The official release states, “The safety and security of business aircraft operators and their passengers continues to be a priority for our government. We will continue to ensure the private operator certification program meets the highest aviation safety expectations.” With this change, TC reassumes full responsibility for issuing operating certificates to new applicants as well as for processing changes to existing certificates.

Operators will continue to be responsible for complying with requirements for maintaining their aircraft and TC will continue to assess compliance. According to the release, there will be limited change for business aviation operators during the next year. CBAA will still be responsible for certification of business aviation until Apr 1, 2011 but, starting Apr 1, 2010, TC will enhance surveillance of CBAA’s certification and oversight functions.

During the transition period, TC will conduct a complete review of its surveillance and regulatory structure for business aviation operations. Canada is the only country that imposes additional regulatory requirements specifically for business aviation. These have been in place since 1983. In 2003, responsibility for issuing and managing POCs and CAR 604 ops was handed from TC to CBAA.

The government of the day advised that there was a need to consolidate and focus TC’s limited resources. Business aviation as an operating segment of GA in Canada did not require the same level of direct management and oversight that other segments did—hence the handoff. Bizav in Canada had (and still has) a low accident record and was considered a small group to control.

Change in govt thinking

TC Media Relations Advisor Melanie Quesnel notes that, on Dec 1, 2009, Baird said in the House of Commons that the Government of Canada “is tremendously concerned with civil aviation safety. At my department (Transport Canada), that is one of our most important responsibilities.

I do not support outsourcing safety testing or safety monitoring to the private sector. I think it is an important core responsibility of government and my department.” Driving the current minister to make these comments was a response to 2 separate incidents involving POC aircraft that showed CBAA in an unfavorable light.

The accidents occurred in the late 2007, and one involved the first fatalities in a long time for corporate aviation in Canada. In its review and findings on the first of these 2 events, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) reported, “Private operators regulated by CBAA were not held to the same standard that TC implemented for commercial operators.

TC regulations require commercial airline companies to implement safety management systems (SMS) in stages on a fixed timeline, while CBAA was free to implement SMS for its operators on its own terms with no fixed timeframe.” In TSB’s Nov 10, 2009 release, board member Kathy Fox noted, “This is a serious problem.

Safety can be compromised when SMS plans are vague, dead­lines are flexible, and critical oversight is lacking.” She added, “Without proper milestones or auditing, SMS cannot function properly and the risks increase.” In 2 key recommendations, TSB called for CBAA to set SMS implementation milestones for certificate holders and for TC to ensure that CBAA has an effective quality assurance program in place to audit its certificate holders.

Following the announcement that the POC program is being returned to TC, the mainstream media have made frequent reference to this TSB statement and questioned the safety of Canadian skies and passengers. According to TC’s Quesnel, “TSB did not indicate any safety concerns with the program in its investigation of 2 recent accidents involving business aircraft.

Their recommendations were related to the quality assurance aspects of the CBAA audit program, which was also a finding in a TC assessment of CBAA.” One question is where TC will get the resources to take back the CAR 604 POC operations. When the program was offloaded, it was made clear that, like many government departments, TC was going to have to make do with less as budgets and human resources shrank.

Presumably, since CBAA POC came into force in 2003, TC resources and expertise have been reallocated or even lost. Combined with that, there has been criticism that, since TC is having a hard enough time keeping up with demands on its people and systems now, it will have difficulty adding to those burdens. According to Quesnel, TC is currently assessing what resources are needed to resume these activities.

CBAA’s position

According to CBAA, the Mar 16 decision has had a profound impact and will require it to restructure itself solely as a trade association focused on providing advocacy services for its members. CBAA is, of course, disappointed. The CBAA regulatory model (with its performance-based standards and SMSs) is progressive, forward-looking and effective in enhancing the safety of bizav ops and provides an excellent level of service to its members.

The association is concerned that, with TC’s limited resources, this decision will result in reduced levels of service and higher costs to its members. CBAA’s board of directors has formed a transition subcommittee to work on obtaining the best results possible for CBAA and its members, including maintenance of service levels and compensation for the expenses that CBAA will accrue as a result of the decision.

Some have offered that this entire situation is motivated largely by politics. Others point to a federal civil service union that represents members of TC—specifically, members whose jobs where lost or reassigned when the POC program came under CBAA. Even if any of these speculations is true, the real victims are corporate aviation operators in Canada, who have spent lots of money and resources getting POC and SMS process in place. The question now is how much it will cost them to get in line with whatever Transport Canada decides needs to be done. —Rob Seaman

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