Background

Concern about the large number of accidents in the Air Taxi industry motivated Transport Canada to initiate the SATOPS project. Relative to Airline and Commuter operations, Air Taxi aircraft are involved in the vast majority of accidents each year. Transport Canada System Safety generates an annual Canadian Aviation Safety Statistics report based on Transportation Safety Board accident statistics. The reports from 1990 to 1995 revealed that the number of accidents had not decreased and the number of fatal accidents had increased.

The following graph illustrates the proportion of Air Taxi accidents relative to the total number of accidents in commercial operations during 1990 - 1995. The first column in each year represents the total number of accidents in all commercial operations. The second column represents the number of helicopter and fixed-wing Air Taxi accidents. The third column represents the number of helicopter accidents (included in the second column) for comparison purposes. In 1990, 82% of all commercial aircraft accidents involved Air Taxi aircraft, 83% in 1991, 69% in 1992, 72% in 1993, and 79% in 1994 and 1995.

Proportion of Air Taxi accidents relative to the total number of accidents in commercial operations 1990 - 1995

The following tables show the number of fatal accidents and fatalities in Air Taxi operations and the percentage relative to the total number of fatal accidents and fatalities in all commercial operations for fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from 1990 through 1995.

FATAL ACCIDENTS AND FATALITIES - FIXED WING AIRCRAFT

Fatal Accidents and Fatalities - Fixed Wing Aircraft

* Excluding the accident in Saudi Arabia that claimed 261 lives.

FATAL ACCIDENTS AND FATALITIES - HELICOPTERS

Fatal Accidents and Fatalities - Helicopters

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine the accident rate for Air Taxi operations since statistics are not available for the number of flight hours or the number of aircraft movements (take-offs and landings). Air Taxi operators are not required to track this information. A reduction in the number of flight hours could have been the reason for an improved accident record in 1992 and 1993.

Without relevant data, it is very difficult to determine where the majority of accidents occur. This data is required in order to identify areas to commit resources for accident prevention programs. Increasing regulation was not considered to be the solution to reducing the accident rate. Disregard for established regulations was cited by the Transportation Safety Board in many of the Air Taxi accident reports. Transport Canada believes that there is a culture or attitude of accepted operating practices that has developed over the years in Air Taxi operations. The Task Force's objective was to propose ways to improve the accident record by identifying the culture, attitudes, problems and safety practices in Air Taxi operations.

Air Taxi operations involve more than just transporting passengers or cargo and are not generally conducted from paved runways. Lakes, ice and snow-covered surfaces, eskers and tundra are typical "runways". Helicopters operate in confined and remote areas that are otherwise inaccessible by air. Aerial spraying, surveying, waterbombing or waterbucketting forest fires, helilogging, heliskiing, and carrying or slinging external loads are examples of Air Taxi operations.

There is considerable competition in the Air Taxi industry as a result of deregulation. Any company able to meet the Transport Canada regulatory requirements can be authorized to operate. This creates significant pressure on air operators, especially smaller operators, to compete for a limited number of clients and contracts. Compounding this is the limited time that operators and pilots have to make money. The majority of hours flown each year occur in the spring through fall when the days are longer and the weather is generally favourable. The tourist industry generates a substantial amount of business for Air Taxi operators who can serve the needs of fishermen and hunters. Geological exploration increases when the ground is more accessible to specific types of field work.

A fixed-wing pilot's first job is usually with an Air Taxi operator where he gains experience before moving on to larger aircraft with commuter companies or the major airlines. Remote working locations and low wages make it difficult to attract highly qualified people. Pilot turnover is high, especially when the economy is strong and the airlines are hiring. Helicopter pilots working in the Air Taxi industry generally have more experience since the opportunity for advancement to airline-type operations is not available. Nonetheless, inexperienced helicopter pilots face the same problem as inexperienced fixed-wing pilots. Clients expect that the pilot will be able to perform any task required of the job. This expectation places subtle and sometimes overt pressure on the pilot that can lead to poor decision making.

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