Mr. Chair, good morning. It will be me.
I am colonel Steve Charpentier, the Director of Flight Safety for the Royal Canadian Air Force. I am also the Airworthiness Investigative Authority for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, known throughout the air force as the AIA.
I am joined by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Dittmann, Chief Investigator, and Jim Armour, Senior Investigator, both from the Directorate of Flight Safety, as well as Alex Weatherston, Legal Counsel from the Office of the Legal Advisor to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. They all worked on the development of this bill.
The Airworthiness Investigative Authority, or AIA as I will abbreviate, is currently delegated, through a chief of defence staff order that was made on behalf of the Minister of National Defence, the necessary powers and duties to support the airworthiness and flight safety programs for the Canadian Forces and the
Thank you for allowing me to make some introductory remarks to this committee on the proposed amendments to the Aeronautics Act.
I would first like to say that these amendments are critical to the continued success of aviation investigation under both the Department of National Defence airworthiness program and the Canadian Forces flight safety program.
By correcting multiple deficiencies that presently exist within the Aeronautics Act, these amendments will provide appropriate tools for the Minister of National Defence to execute the statutory Aeronautics Act requirement to investigate aviation occurrences.
As the airworthiness investigative authority, I have the Minister of National Defence's delegated statutory responsibility to investigate matters of aviation safety for the Canadian Forces as part of the department's airworthiness program. Additionally, as the director of flight safety, I'm charged with the maintenance and implementation of the Canadian Forces flight safety program. In order to continue to carry out my airworthiness investigative authority function in a transparent, competent, and independent manner, the powers contained in the proposed amendment are essential.
Please note that the sole purpose of investigation carried out under both the airworthiness program and the flight safety program is to identify military aviation safety deficiencies and to make recommendations to eliminate or reduce the recurrence. An important concept within this process is that these investigations are not used for disciplinary or administrative purposes. This promotes a free and open reporting culture because the outcome of the investigation process is a blameless series of findings and recommendations aimed at prevention.
However, over time there have been changes to the way that the Royal Canadian Air Force's operation and training are conducted, and these changes have led to concerns in the capacity for the airworthiness investigative authority and his delegated investigators to investigate military aviation safety matters, particularly when civilians are involved.
The National Defence Act provides legal authority in respect of persons subject to the code of service discipline, meaning military members of the Canadian Forces. This authority works very well to investigate the military elements within the Canadian Forces because lawful orders may be given to ensure the cooperation of military personnel during the course of military aviation investigations. However, the National Defence Act does not generally apply to civilians and civilian contractors who are becoming increasingly more engaged in our air operation and training, with activities ranging from total maintenance of search and rescue and transport fleets to the lease of civilian-owned training aircraft at the flying training centres in Moose Jaw and Portage la Prairie.
Next I would like to point out that the civilian Transportation Safety Board is prohibited by the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act from investigating military aviation accidents unless they involve civilian aviation facilities or non-military aircrafts, in which case the investigation must be coordinated with the airworthiness investigative authority.
So while the Minister of National Defence is responsible under the Aeronautics Act for military flight safety investigation, military investigators have no appropriate legal means to deal with civilian and civilian contractors involved in military aircraft accidents. To respond to this deficiency, the proposed Aeronautics Act amendments import many powers and provisions that are largely consistent with those that the Transportation Safety Board utilizes for investigating civilian accidents. This strategy will enable these powers to be used by the airworthiness investigative authority and its delegated investigators to properly conduct the investigation that they have been charged to carry out regardless of the occurrence, the location, or who is involved. Furthermore, civilians and industry that support military aviation will be completely familiar with the investigation process because essentially the same investigative powers will be utilized by both the airworthiness investigative authority and the Transportation Safety Board.
However, there are some differences with the proposed Aeronautics Act amendments when compared to the similar provision of the existing Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act, which I would refer to as CTAISB act. I would like to take the time to explain these differences, most of which deal with on-board recorders and the use of data from such devices.
The amendments will permit the on-board recorder of an aircraft operated by or on behalf of the Canadian Forces to be made available to military boards of inquiry convened under section 45 of the National Defence Act. Similar to the requirement in subsection 28(6) of the CTAISB act, when a civilian court or coroner must decide when a request is made for the production and discovery of an on-board recorder there is a test in subsection 23(1) of the amendments to the Aeronautics Act by which a military on-board recorder would be made available to a board of inquiry if the public interest in the proper administration of the Canadian Forces outweighs the privilege associated with the on-board recorder. The Minister of National Defence would make the final determination of the balancing of these interests. This provision is a welcome process change considered necessary to avoid a circumstance where, at present, one Canadian Forces authority, the AIA, might be in court trying to protect an on-board recorder while another Canadian Forces authority, the board of inquiry, would be in the same court attempting to get access to the on-board recorder.
Also, unlike under the CTAISB act, the new legislation provides that on-board recorders that are made available for a board of inquiry could subsequently be used in other proceedings that relate to determining the capacity or competence of an occurrence crew member who is a military member. This would not include any use of an on-board recorder in any military disciplinary proceeding. On-board recorder use in capacity or competency proceedings is considered appropriate given the need to safeguard the military aviation assets necessary for the defence of Canada.
As well, the AIA may authorize the use of on-board recorders for purposes other than aviation safety investigations that are in the interests of aviation safety, such as for debrief or training tools. This allows dual purpose systems, such as a head-up display with voice, to be fully employed both as an on-board recorder and a flight line training aid. This is seen as a great savings of resources for the Canadian Forces while facilitating safety investigations.
Finally, under the amendments, the AIA will provide reports to the Minister of National Defence, whereas under the CTAISB act, the Transportation Safety Board makes its reports public. This is appropriate given the AIA's wider scope of investigation and reporting, which may include operational and other classified information. It is expected that the Minister of National Defence, consistent with current practice, will permit the AIA report to be made public, less any items that could compromise operational and security considerations.
Another related problem is the inability to obtain information critical to flight safety investigation from civilian companies and individuals. Civilian companies and individuals have a wealth of technical data and could be a valuable source of feedback after reviewing a draft investigation report.
However, there is currently no penalty for unauthorized or premature release of information in a draft report, given that early release of such information could compromise an investigation. This leaves the Canadian Forces reluctant at present to consult civilian companies and individuals in the review process. These release problems will be solved by the provision of amendment that will prohibit by law the release of information in draft investigation reports.
In summary, the new proposed part II of the Aeronautics Act will enable the Department of National Defence to execute its statutory Aeronautics Act requirements by providing military investigators with the appropriate powers to conduct full and proper investigations into military aircraft accidents that may involve civilians.
Military investigators will be thoroughly trained in respect of all aspects of the new powers before being allowed to exercise those powers.
The amendments will also facilitate the sharing of information with the Transportation Safety Board for coordinated investigations, since both offices will have essentially the same obligations to protect information.
Last and most importantly, the proposed amendments are critical for improving the ability of the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence to ensure the safety of the men and women in the military aviation community, civilians involved in military aviation and the general public.
I am ready to answer any questions that the members of this committee may have.
I would like to begin by congratulating you, Colonel Charpentier, for this morning's presentation. This may be the most coherent presentation I have heard in a few years.
Thank you very much for your brief. It's very comprehensive and very easy to understand.
As I understand it from your presentation, these amendments are trying to deal with two interfaces that need to be improved. One is the interface between military and civilian roles, and the other is the interface between the AIA and the TSB. Is that right? A number of changes are being made here to improve the way we do what we do under both acts, and there are a number of measures here I wanted to explore with you.
Over the last several years, many Canadians have been concerned because the government, taking a general approach, has moved to concentrate more and more power into the hands of specific departmental ministers. We've seen in a number of different areas how decision-making has been elevated to the office of the minister, including, for example, being able to reverse decisions made by arm's-length statutory bodies.
Can I just explore with you a little bit the new powers that are being vested in the here? One is described on page 4 of your brief, regarding this test around on-board recorders, whether it would be made available to a board of inquiry, and whether the public interest and proper administration of the Canadian Forces outweigh the privilege associated with the on-board recorder. There is a new power being vested in the Minister of National Defence.
Do I have that right?
Thank you, sir. That's a good question and actually you provided one of the answers.
Other points to consider are that the TSB investigations are carried out under the CTAISB Act. Section 18(2) of the act provides that the Transportation Safety Board “shall not investigate a transportation occurrence that involves a military conveyance or military transportation facility”unless the occurrence also involves a non-military conveyance or facility. In occurrences where both military and non-military aviation resources are involved, the investigation, as I explained, will be coordinated between the TSB and DND.
However, many occurrences involve only military aviation resources, but have civilians associated with the military resources. The proposed legislation addresses this situation. The legislation would permit appropriate investigation of occurrences in this category, which are increasing in number, because we have more and more civilian companies being involved.
We have protocol and understanding with NATO and the U.S. I'll give you an example, which is still under investigation, so I'm not going to go into the details. We had a Hercules that had an accident in Key West in Florida. Initially the U.S. reacted by sending their military, because it's a bit similar to us, sending the military to investigate. According to the MOU we have, Canada will investigate if one of our assets is involved in an accident or something happens in the United States.
All those things the TSB doesn't have; we have to build them, and then after that it's a question of credibility. We have a Canadian asset talking to the U.S. military—
Actually, the good news is we try to invest a lot in prevention. When we do investigations, somewhere we have failed prevention. Prevention, as you know, is a very tough job.
So the number is going down. I'm going around showing the stats right now, and we have fewer accidents than we had in the last 10 years. So we're doing better through prevention, through better airworthiness, and possibly through a better investigation process and sharing all that information. We have a system in which each one of those occurrences is reported. Everybody in Canada can access it and see what happened there—what they have done and the lessons learned. We use that and hammer down the thing. It's all about sharing information.
I must put a caveat in that contrary to the TSB.... the TSB doesn't investigate everything. They investigate no major accident, which would be in the best interests of the public and so on. We investigate everything. Somebody installed a wrong bolt to something somewhere and someone cut that, they would come forward and say that during the inspection for the pre-flight this morning, they realized that was not the right bolt there. All right, fine, we enter it, this is an occurrence.
We have a network of more or less 330 investigators. They all report to me for investigation purposes only. Some have different qualifications, but those types—you know, like investigating why this bolt was there instead of that bolt—that would be done locally. They would follow the process, they would report to us, and so on, just to explain.
As I said, there are four classes of investigation. Most of those 3,300 things are little stuff like that, or a pilot that did not sign the proper documentation before going flying, and that type of thing. That's what I mean by we invest a lot in prevention. Those could have led to an accident, but never had an accident. But for us there was a possibility, so we investigated.
No. You will see when the report is out and you go through it, we do make some good recommendations. That may be some guys.... It's transparent. There's no interference. I haven't seen any of it.
I took over this job last July and being away from that, because I was deployed on a mission in Haiti, I came back and I looked at that. I was a bit questioning myself about that, but I really had a good test, which was the Sea King crash in July. Some of the EA administrative people came to me and said the chief of the air force wants to know what happened in the crash. So I said, okay, I'll go up and brief him about it. When he saw me—and he knew I was the new director of flight safety—he said he didn't want to hear about me, he didn't want to be seen as interfering in my protocol. He told me to go back and do my stuff and he would get his information from the chain of command.
I really felt great about that because that was the test for me, that it's very respected and I haven't seen any of that. In the case of Sergeant Gilbert, who is the SAR Tech who died in Nunavut, we went through a very long and good investigation, but at no point whatsoever was anyone interfering in it. We consulted a lot of people directly. Let's say we have to talk to a sergeant, but technically in the Canadian Forces, a colonel doesn't talk to a sergeant. He talks to the colonel who talks to the light colonel and so on.
But we do have that power. We go direct. And we tell him that he can not repeat that. We just want you to double-check here, to make sure we have it correct. We sure don't want to release the wrong information in the report and he comes back to us.
So this is well understood and I think there's a little bit of a good fear in the chain of command that no one wants to put their hand in this thing to be seen as trying to interfere because after that I could go straight to the Minister of National Defence and create a bit of turmoil.