Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the committee.
First of all, I'd like to say thank you for inviting Nav Canada to appear before the committee as part of your study on aviation safety.
Nav Canada is a private company that for more than 20 years has owned and operated Canada's civil air navigation system. We provide air traffic control and advisory services and other related services to pilots. We own the radar and other surveillance technology that enable us to monitor the skies and the navigational aids that help guide aircraft.
We train and employ more than 4,700 air traffic controllers, flight service specialists, technologists, and engineers who support the system. We build air traffic management systems here in Canada, many of which have been sold around the world, including to London's Heathrow, and the Dubai airport.
I started my career as an air traffic controller 40 years ago and and I have had the opportunity to see many important safety-related changes to the aviation industry. In my current role as the vice-president of safety and quality at Nav Canada, I am responsible for our safety management program, which provides internal safety oversight of the management of operational risk as required by the Canadian aviation regulations.
At Nav Canada we often say that safety is our only product. This speaks to the focus of our robust safety culture.
We benchmark our safety performance against other countries, and I'm glad to report that we are among the highest safety performing ANSPs in the world.
The key to our safety record has been a strong focus on developing a training culture and investing heavily in infrastructure and new technologies.
Controller-pilot datalink communications, or CPDLC, is one of those technologies. CPDLC enables air traffic controllers and pilots to communicate through text-like messages. Since the technology's successful implementation in 2012, the number of domestic CPDLC messages has grown to well over 500,000 per month.
This reduces radio frequency congestion and the chance of communication errors, ensuring that pilots and air traffic controllers are able to communicate in the clearest and safest possible manner.
Weather cameras are another innovation that was not in use years ago. Nav Canada has deployed aviation weather cameras at 192 sites across the county, which contribute to safety by enabling pilots and dispatchers to verify local weather conditions.
Another innovation that will truly be transformational for the industry is the much-anticipated launch of space-based automatic dependent surveillance broadcast, or ADS-B. This technology will enable air traffic control entities to track aircraft from low earth orbiting satellites, giving us reach over the world's oceans and remote regions, with significant safety and efficiency benefits. This groundbreaking system, of which Nav Canada is a majority owner, is progressing towards the start of full operations in 2018.
Just as important as our investment in innovation and technology is our investment in our own people. Humans create safety. This is why we've put a major focus on human performance as well as the deployment of controller decision support tools.
An example of one of these tools is our Canadian automated air traffic system, known as CAATS. It is one of the world's most advanced flight data processing systems and is the foundation of Nav Canada's air traffic management system.
These systems allow our controllers to plan, to see, and to resolve potential conflict as far out as 20 minutes in advance, improving the efficiency and safety of the air space they are responsible for managing. We rely on the performance of our people to innovate, to provide world-leading services, to develop and deploy new safety and efficiency-enhancing technologies and procedures, and to create and maintain important safety infrastructure.
Focusing on the human element has allowed us to continually improve our safety record.
Safety is the first priority, not just of Nav Canada, but also across all functions and all members of the aviation community, and knowledge and best practices should always be shared. Collaborative initiatives across the industry therefore represent both a key component of our commitment to safety and a tangible aspect of our plan to continue to improve it.
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I'm proud to discuss the excellent work that Transport Canada officials perform every day to ensure that our country's air transportation system is safe from coast to coast.
The scope of the industry that we need to regulate is immense. Canada is home to the third-largest aerospace manufacturing sector in the world, which employs approximately 211,000 people. There are 36,450 registered aircraft in Canada and 68,546 licensed pilots. Aircraft take off and land hundreds of times a day at our country's 567 certified airports and heliports. Despite this, we have one of the safest air transportation systems in the world.
While air travel in Canada has grown over the years, the number of accidents in Canada continues to decline. Over the past five years, aviation accidents in this country have decreased by 13%. While we embrace this success, we are always striving to improve. There are many factors that keep our skies safe, but the most important are the people. Everyone involved, whether in the air or on the ground, is essential to maintaining Canada's strong aviation security record.
Transport Canada ensures the safety of the national air transportation system through its regulatory framework and oversight activities. Our regulatory framework sets safety regulations for the aviation industry and develops policies, guidelines, standards, and educational materials. Our robust civil aviation oversight regime uses a risk-based approach to verify that the industry complies with the framework and uses a variety of tools to verify compliance and enforce the regulations.
Transport Canada shares and learns our best practices internationally through our participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization. The department regularly engages with stakeholders to benefit from their knowledge and expertise and to better understand their safety concerns. As a result of our collaboration in Canada and abroad, we have achieved great success on a number of priorities. For example, we are taking active steps to address concerns with flight crew fatigue, seaplane safety, runway overruns, excursions, and pilot decision-making. Many of our efforts will also respond to the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations.
Finally, to ensure that our rules are followed, we are continually working to update our oversight system and taking action when rules are not followed, to keep the travelling public safe.
Our efforts are not limited to developing new regulations. Sometimes it's quicker and more effective to educate and help industry develop its own solutions. To that end, we will be hosting a “Fit to Fly” workshop in early June to address very complicated issues related to pilot mental health and substance abuse. We will also be launching a new general aviation safety campaign in the early summer.
With these actions, I have every reason to expect that our aviation safety record will continue to improve in the years to come.
Madame Chair, thank you for the committee's attention on this matter. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have, as are my colleagues.
Thank you for the question, Madam Chair.
As the deputy mentioned previously, Transport Canada went through a fairly difficult year and a half or so of making sure that our actual expenditures were matching our appropriations. We took some decisions during that period as to how to manage our funds in the most effective way possible.
During that entire process, I can say that safety oversight was, if not the top priority, certainly one of the top one or two priorities for the department. Through that period, we managed these very challenging issues by controlling staffing. During the control of staffing periods, where there was a critical safety position that needed to be staffed in aviation safety, in rail safety, in any of the other oversight areas, or in some of our other more technical sides of the program, those staffing actions were made and moved ahead. There was a fairly complex set of changes that occurred during that period of time that were adjusted as we went through it, so I wouldn't be able to give you a summary of the very specific details of that.
I can tell you, though, that we are moving forward now this year. Budgets are being delegated, and we are moving back into a more normal time frame.
However, throughout that entire period our safety oversight was our core mandate. That was kept as a primary target, and we did deliver. In fact, our statistics on the actual oversight activities we carried out will support that.
Thank you very much for the question, Madam Chair.
I started flying about four years ago, so I know quite a lot about simulators.
The way we look at the business today is to try to train the pilot to the best capacity to be able to answer to any type of emergency he may face. We don't want to do that in airplanes. We used to do that 30 or 40 years ago, but with the avenue of airplane now, we even qualify the pilots in simulators, and their first real flight is with 300 passengers in the back of the airplane, because the simulators of today are that good.
We have the new fidelity simulators that are built by fantastic companies such as CAE in Montreal, which really replicate everything totally until the last few feet before touchdown on the runway.
Training our inspectors in just the same way Air Canada and WestJet train their pilots makes quite a lot of sense, and it's less risky. To start shutting down engines in the air, and so on and so forth, would be to put our staff, inspectors, and pilot instructors at risk. We're just following the same suit as the large airlines of this world.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank our witnesses for being here.
My questions are for the Transport Canada officials.
First, I would like to hear your take on some reasoning of mine. It came to me after I read a document entitled Staff Instruction (SI) SUR-001, the purpose of which is to instruct staff on how to conduct inspections.
So far, I haven't made a mistake. Page 5 refers to cancelled documents. The directive in the former Transport Canada inspection manual is cancelled. Page 8 indicates that the staff instruction pertaining to traditional inspections is cancelled. On page 7, surveillance is defined as all activities directly related to Transport Canada Civil Aviation evaluating an enterprise's compliance with applicable regulatory requirements including assessments, program validation inspections, and process inspections.
Transport Canada cancelled the staff instruction on traditional inspections and replaced it with only self-regulatory system surveillance. In light of that, would I be right to say, or think, that Transport Canada now relies almost solely on self-regulation and surveillance of self-regulatory systems when it comes to aviation oversight? That would line up with concerns expressed by Judge Moshansky, whom the committee heard from last week.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Aubin, for your question.
Transport Canada provides nearly 120,000 civil aviation activities per year. They range from reviewing pilot medical assessments, which can take a few minutes, to certifying the C Series aircraft, which took Transport Canada inspectors some 150,000 hours. As you can see, oversight encompasses numerous activities. Many have to do with quality, meaning system management, and many involve inspections referred to as “process inspections”.
The former mechanisms were indeed cancelled, but process inspections are still in place. For example, last year, we conducted more than 1,000 process inspections involving the country's top seven air carriers, including Air Transat, Air Canada, and WestJet. We conducted more than 300 maintenance inspections, ranging from on-ramp aircraft inspections and maintenance quality inspections to basic inspections throughout the country. With respect to flight operations, we conducted inspections of classrooms, simulators, and pilot training methods, as well as in-flight inspections. It is virtually the same for the cockpit.
The Transportation Safety Board has raised a number of issues in the last few years, and has drawn more attention to those with their watch-list. That has been very helpful to Transport Canada, in helping us to focus on some of the highest safety priorities.
We have looked at all of the outstanding recommendations. We've been working closely with them to go back through the set of recommendations that exist.
I can give you reasons, which are probably not entirely satisfactory unless you look at each individual recommendation. There are instances where, in our view, the technology has superseded the recommendation, so in some cases, we would not necessarily be moving forward with a particular approach to a recommendation.
There are situations where the recommendation in principle is a good recommendation, but when you look at the practicality of implementing it....
I'll use the three point shoulder belt recommendation for older aircraft. When we looked at the complexity of doing that and worked on that, we found that the structure of these older aircraft would simply not support that particular recommendation.
One of the things that we've been doing with the Transportation Safety Board is working with them to clearer in defining where we see some of those challenges. Sometimes we've been too slow, and so we agree that we have to move more quickly.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I have a few questions.
By the way, we do look forward to coming forward with the passenger bill of rights. For the most part, especially after what we saw yesterday and to Mr. Deltell's comments, I think we'll see a lot of it alleviated with that being put in place.
At the last meeting, we heard from a witness that we're lucky to fly without crashing. I think that was his comment. Today we hear how safe our airways are, which I tend to believe, but I have to get some clarification on that. It was a comment made and it wasn't made lightly. Obviously, if people were watching—and I believe it was televised—it can really stir up a lot of emotions.
Again, with your being here today and, of course, being charged with that responsibility, could you give us some clarification on what the reality is?
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'll try to be as brief as I can.
Good morning, members of the standing committee.
On behalf of Air Canada, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you today.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important study on aviation safety. My name is Samuel Elfassy, and I'm the managing director of corporate safety, environment, and quality at Air Canada.
I'd like to start by giving the committee a quick brief on Air Canada, and where we are today before examining several issues concerning safety in aviation.
Air Canada is Canada's largest domestic and international airline, serving more than 200 airports. It is one of the few global airlines now serving six continents through our recent expansion of service out of Montreal's Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport to francophone centres in Africa. We directly serve 64 airports in Canada, 57 in the United States, and 91 in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Last year we carried close to 45 million passengers, putting us among the 20 largest airlines in the world.
Air Canada is experiencing incredible growth with very positive contributions to the Canadian economy. At the heart of this growth has been the strength of the workforce. That has increased to 30,000, with close to 2,500 jobs added over the last three-year period. It is important to note that almost all of our new employees serving the public are bilingual, and more than 50% of them speak both English and French.
We are also in the middle of an $8 billion fleet renewal plan that is seeing Air Canada aircraft and major components being built and supported across the country, and new jobs being created in the highly skilled aerospace manufacturing sector.
Further, we are well recognized as one of Canada's top 100 companies. We have been recognized for our diversity program and, most recently, for our hiring and promotion of women in all areas and all levels of the company.
Considering that in 2009, we were on what our CEO referred to as “a burning platform”, and had come out of CCAA in 2004, our turnaround is something that we are all very proud of. Through these challenges, the company has emerged strong, sustainable, and positioned for the future. As Air Canada turns 80 this year, sharing a milestone with Canada's 150th birthday, we remain focused on being a global champion for Canada and carrying the maple leaf proudly for the years to come.
In many ways this positive attitude is no better displayed than in our approach to safety. We have no higher obligation to our coworkers, our passengers, and our airline. Amongst our corporate values, safety is first. Canadian airlines, including Air Canada, are among the safest in the world and reflect the global trend that air transport continues to improve year over year and remains one of the safest modes of transportation according to the International Air Transport Association, based in Montreal, Quebec.
Still, safety is an in-progress product that demands constant attention, innovation, and investment. This is not simply the work of the airlines, but demands the participation of airports, providers, suppliers, and governments if the system is to function properly.
Strong regulatory frameworks remain the foundation upon which we collectively build and enhance aviation operations and the industry as a whole. Working together, we must learn from past experiences and take bold measures to pave the way forward.
Air Canada is pleased to see that Transport Canada is taking active measures to address the challenge and risk that drones and lasers have introduced in recent years. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada itself is recognized as an international leader in safety investigations, and their watch-list focused attention and efforts on critical threats facing aviation operations.
Further improvements can be made, in fact, with core airport safety upgrades, including precision approach aids, enhanced runway lighting, runway overrun protections, runway incursion devices and incursion radar equipment. That said, enhancing safety of airline operations requires continuous innovation and regulatory improvements. There are still valuable TSB recommendations and ideas that have not been implemented by Transport Canada.
Equally, international programs, such as flight data monitoring, now adopted worldwide and recognized by Air Canada as a world class program, are still not fully recognized by Transport Canada. We invite the government to address these issues to ensure that we hold our standing and professional standards with the international aviation community.
Similarly, changes and improvements to security rules, staffing support, and protocols, making the process more efficient and allowing airports and regions, and, yes, the airlines, to benefit through secure yet less bureaucratic and disruptive processing of passengers will ultimately allow us to fully realize sixth freedom advantages offered by our geography.
Of course, we too have to work hard, and so we continue to examine our practices, our initiatives, and work with our internal policies to ensure we are compliant with aviation regulations and that we recognize and adopt best industry practices. We fully support the IATA operational safety audit program and work with partners in alliances and colleagues across the industry.
In closing, I would like to offer that our industry is strong and plays an important role in setting and maintaining effective international standards. There will always be work to accomplish, but together we have the opportunity to employ our collective best and the brightest to tackle these issues.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering any questions. Merci.
Thanks for the opportunity today.
My name is Glenn Priestley. I am the executive director of the Northern Air Transport Association, and it's a honour to work with such a fine group of professionals. For the sake of brevity, I've included an overview of NATA in a briefing note to provide you with background on the organization.
The three issues I would like to highlight today are the challenges associated with antiquated infrastructure, in the words of our ; the regulator's understanding and knowledge of issues; and the impact of the understanding of regulatory change without sufficient consultation.
We've broken it up into your terms of reference. Under personnel issues, I'd like to start with a quote:
...We cannot attract pilots to live in the northern communities any longer and therefore we must rotate our crews. To have a work life balance the flight crews require sufficient time off after a rotation (typically 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off). To penalize the operator because of its operating in the north is unfair. A good example would be typical [Air Canada] or WestJet pilots that do not reside in the city in which they base themselves out of. The flight crew “position” themselves at the latest possible time in order to instill the work life balance with their families. Because the airline has many flights per day throughout the southern part of Canada the pilot has many opportunities to “position” themselves. Northern communities have one and sometimes less than one flight per day and therefore the time spent by the pilot to “position” themselves is very different.
It's a different set of risks, a different set of challenges.
With regard to the enforcement and monitoring of legislation, NATA believes that's up to the organization doing the operations. Again, using the current proposed flight and duty time regulations as an example, this presentation highlights NATA's concern with a combination of factors of insufficient consultation by informed regulators to develop a set of regulations that will provide no measurable improvement in overall system safety, but will increase costs. That's an administrative example.
Let me give you another example:
...we will be looking for a vast number of exceptions to the indicated rules here with the irregular times that Medevacs are called in. Having all staff rotating into bases because we don't have the luxury of locating our bases out of large southern cities is problematic for the acclimatization side of things. This will require less time off for flight crews as we will have to rotate them up into the northern bases, put them to rest for 24 or 48 hours and then have them work a normal rotation. Their days off will be reduced dramatically and the quality of work life balance will suffer resulting in foreseeable problems....
That was from a pilot who has 25 years of experience and owns a company that's done 100,000 hours of flying accident-free. However, he was never consulted on the flight and duty time rules.
In the briefing note, I show a route map that is useful to illustrate the size of northern Canada. It's about 40% of Canada, or the size of western Europe, with the population equivalent of Moose Jaw or Kingston, and with approximately 100 airstrips, 10 of which are paved. The briefing note also lists several quotes and recommendations from the Canada Transportation Act review.
I will not read them all. The following, however, highlights the northern safety issues:
The heightened risk that attends the use of unpaved, short runways in northern and remote aviation could mean that services are lost, or that there are a higher number of accidents.
As far as the sleep issue, as a former pilot, I know it's far more fatiguing to fly into an airport ill-prepared.
Many of the Nunavut airports could benefit from the installation of GPS systems to reduce flight cancellations or missed approaches that have significant cost impacts to both passengers and airlines.
Let me continue with flight operations because it's a complex issue that northern operators have been managing very well with significant initial investment and ongoing costs. However, due to a lack of infrastructure in the north, many of the advancements in technology cannot be used. We have modern airplanes that can't go into many airports in the north, for instance.
With regard to northern accident intervention, NATA believes there's a root cause system safety issue identified that is evidenced in Transport Canada's development of prescriptive based rules for flight and duty times that do not meet the requirement of the cabinet directive on regulatory management, or the intent of the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council charter. There needs to be a better consultative process with the northern aviation stakeholders. The regulatory process is too confrontational, leading to diminished overall system safety.
We think it would be useful for Transport Canada to facilitate, in partnership with NATA, a northern aviation system safety committee comprised of stakeholders involved in ensuring safe and efficient aviation transportation. This committee would review the current proposed prescribed rules for flight and duty time, as well as a consultative approach for all future regulatory reviews.
In closing, I think this testimony clearly provides an example of how the regulator, because of lack of effective consultation, has created a problem where one did not exist. Indeed, with regard to flight and duty time:
...[it] will be extremely tough to manage and will no doubt require additional staff to maintain and track these hours in respect to each pilot and the duty day that is allowable. In the Medevac world our hours of operation are undetermined and there are many missions that would not be able to be completed by one flight crew due to stage lengths. (a typical medevac flight in the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut is 11 hours) To be required to change flight crews in the middle of a critical medevac could potentially cause serious negative effects to a patient up to and including death. The vast distances that are required to transport a patient from a northern community to a higher level of hospital care requires long duty days.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and committee members, for the invitation to be here today to discuss an issue that is so important to all WestJetters and is at the heart of our commitment to serve Canadians.
My name is Darcy Granley and I serve as WestJet's vice-president of safety, security, and quality. Reporting to our president and CEO, I am responsible for establishing and influencing the strategic direction, objectives, and policies and procedures for all safety and security related initiatives for WestJet.
During my 15-year career at WestJet, I have held various operational, technical, safety, and leadership roles, including as line pilot, technical pilot, and director of our operations control centre.
Prior to WestJet, I was proud to serve for 20 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was involved in various flight test programs, including the avionics upgrade to the C-130 Hercules aircraft and the CF-5 Freedom Fighter aircraft. I have flown over 7,000 hours and piloted more than 30 types of aircraft.
The sense of duty and obligation I have to serve Canadians is shared by everyone at WestJet, where safety is and always will be paramount.
For the committee's benefit, I would like to take a few minutes to give you a glimpse into how our company structures itself with regard to safety. I hope to assist in informing members how WestJet fulfils its obligation to keep Canadians safe. I trust this will also be helpful as you continue your deliberations on this important issue.
At the core of our safety focus are operational safety and occupational health and safety management systems. Canada was a leader in introducing SMS through regulation to Canada's air carriers in 2005. Being the first country to mandate SMS has allowed both Canada and our company to be at the leading edge of safety management.
Since 2005, we have worked in conjunction with Transport Canada to develop and grow our SMS to where it is today, an organized set of programs, principles, processes, and procedures to manage operational risks at the forefront of safety management. Our SMS integrates human, technical, and financial resources to achieve the highest level of safety through a focus on proactive risk management and quality management processes. However, it is our employees' daily commitment to our core safety value that ensures our excellent safety performance.
Our SMS also provides internal oversight of our safety programs and provides our leadership teams with the mechanism for continuous independent evaluation and improvement of our safety performance. In accordance with the regulatory requirements, we have a comprehensive SMS in place that includes the six components in support of our SMS: a safety management plan, documentation, safety oversight, training, quality assurance, and an emergency response plan.
We have a safety, health, and environment committee, which is one of the committees of the board of directors. This committee provides direction, monitors compliance, and makes recommendations to the board to enhance corporate performance as it relates to safety, health, and environmental principles.
We also have a department dedicated to facilitating safety activities within WestJet, and this department works closely with all operational departments in WestJet and is responsible for identifying and demonstrating conformance to our airline's safety, security, and quality objectives that meet or exceed regulatory requirements.
As a regulated component of our SMS, our emergency response plan is at the forefront of caring for our guests and employees. This commitment to our guests is not only evident throughout our operations, but it is the founding principle of our emergency response preparedness. Safety awareness is one of our most effective tools in keeping guests and WestJetters safe. In addition to the specialized training for our safety team members, all WestJet employees are required to complete annual online training to broaden awareness and understanding about our SMS and OHSMS programs.
We are an IOSA-registered and compliant airline. IOSA is an internationally recognized and accepted evaluation system designed to assist operational, management, and control systems of an airline and is the worldwide safety standard for code-share agreements. By following an SMS and being an IOSA-registered airline, WestJet's quality assurance program requires the performance of independent operational safety audits to ensure the ongoing compliance with Transport Canada regulations and IATA standards and identify opportunities for improvement.
The operational safety audits are completed by our operations and evaluations quality team on a two-year rolling program. Our SMS and OHSMS ensure a systematic approach to managing safety, including the necessary organizational structures, accountabilities, policies, and procedures. Both WestJet and WestJet Encore move in parallel with the evolution and continuous improvement of our safety culture, programs, and standards.
Through the integrated safety programs that comprise our SMS and OHSMS and the advanced safety systems on our aircraft, we strive to maintain the highest level of safety in our operations. We believe that our ownership culture at WestJet manifests itself in all aspects of our operations, and this includes safety. There are so many fundamental elements of our safety regime, and I would be pleased to take your questions on this issue.
Again, thank you to you and to the committee for inviting me here today.
There are three things you might be interested in.
One of the problems in the north is getting adequately trained personnel. The demographic is about 200 to 300 people per year. Traditionally, people from the south go north and get some experience. They don't like it and leave. It's not working. We have shortages of personnel. We have now established, as of April 24 at the NATA 41 convention in Yellowknife, a northern training centre for northerners, out of Whitehorse. It's a college-level, two-year program for flight crew.
As I mentioned, the second issue is the runway conditions. Every year, five to ten runways collapse. It's nobody's fault, but it's a problem. The climate changes. We've got an alternate runway test project that's going to be announced and we're working that through the Nunavut government. Hopefully that's going to be at the Cambridge Bay high Arctic research station, where we will look at something other than gravel or tarmac, which is problematic to get in.
Finally, the third thing, as mentioned earlier by Mr. Lachance of Nav Canada, is working with Nav Canada, who is an excellent safety partner, in the development of ADS-B technology. They will be coming up and giving us a briefing on that technology for our membership.