Guest Editorial

A Modern Approach to Civil Aviation Safety Oversight

A portrait of the DGCA, Martin Eley.
Martin Eley

We in aviation can all be proud that Canada has one of the safest aviation systems in the world. During the last decade, we have seen a continuous decline in the accident rate. In fact, we recently saw the total number of accidents decline to the lowest recorded figure in 10 years. So how do we keep moving forward? How do we continue to improve upon a system that’s already strong? How do we make sure accident rates stay low and how do we drive them even lower?

This translates to a call to action for Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCCA) as the regulator. As air traffic increases, we need to modernize safety practices just to keep accident rates at current levels. TC identified this need several years ago, and at that time, to address exactly this challenge, TC committed to evolving the way it did business.

A move to systems-based safety management

Over the course of the last few years, TCCA has undergone a fundamental change in its approach, and in the industry you’ve surely noticed this change. Today, we’re working differently than we did a few years ago and we’re already seeing international recognition for the approach we are taking.

Safety Management Systems (SMS) mandates a reporting culture and also encourages employee feedback. Our inspectors conduct SMS assessments to verify that the SMS concept is working in practice, not just in theory. These inspections include numerous interviews with company employees and managers, which is something we have never done before. Results show that Canadians are indeed best served by this modern safety culture.

We continue to work hard every day to refine our practices and further advance an already exceptional air safety system. We are also collaborating with industry stakeholders and we are very pleased to see so many taking initiative, such as developing guidance material, to strive for the highest level of safety.

The move to a systems-based approach to safety has been no small task. SMS implementation for Canada’s large airlines was a major undertaking and it took time to get things working effectively. While smaller operators may be less complicated, the sheer volume of them operating across the country is immense, which demands that we are fully ready before we begin SMS implementation for this sector of the aviation industry. It’s very important to us to get it right, and I truly appreciate our stakeholders’ understanding as we work to find the best way forward in modernizing aviation surveillance.

Internal quality assurance at Transport Canada

After seeing the benefits of applying a systems-based approach to the industry, we were confident that we here at TCCA could also benefit from this type of thinking. We began developing our own integrated management system (IMS), which is helping us put in place the right systems and processes to get things done more effectively and efficiently.

At its core, IMS is a quality management system. It involves documenting all of the policies, practices, procedures, and controls that guide and support the Civil Aviation Program, and it’s allowing us to experience benefits similar to those achieved by the industry’s safety management systems. Ultimately, this is about establishing consistency and effectiveness in our program’s delivery across the country. This means the industry can expect to receive a consistent level of oversight from TC, whether its operations are based in Halifax, Whitehorse, or Victoria.

Reorganizing to serve Canadians better

Just as we’re working to achieve efficiencies in the industry and in our own processes and procedures, we also want to be sure our organization is an efficient and effective one. In short, we’re making sure we have the right people in the right places to meet TCCA’s aviation safety oversight commitments. We’re integrating TCCA’s functions and being as cost effective and efficient as possible while staying true to our mandate of maintaining a high level of aviation safety in Canada.

The reorganization project is called the National Organization Transition Implementation Plan (NOTIP). The team leading this transition is close to realizing its goal of implementing the design of a modern organization that easily facilitates the application of TCCA’s business model, the introduction of SMS, and the implementation of our own IMS. We’re making every effort to recruit and retain employees that have crucial competencies, as well as maintaining corporate memory. What’s more, the standard work descriptions being created by the transition team will provide consistency, which again means the industry can expect to receive a consistent, efficient oversight from TC across the country.

In closing 

As Gerard McDonald, Assistant Deputy Minister of Safety and Security, stated in the previous issue’s editorial, “Canada has one of the safest aviation systems in the world.” He and I both feel this is something to be proud of and something to drive us forward to reach new goals. In the business of safety, we can never afford to become too comfortable or complacent, even when the level of safety is already high. We must always reach higher and ask ourselves, “how can we continue to improve,” and “how can we make sure our system stays safe despite increasing volume?”

At TC, we are committed to driving the level of aviation safety even higher by modernizing the way we do things. By evolving our approach to safety oversight, re-evaluating our own policies and procedures, and reshaping our organization, we’re confident we’re ready to meet the challenges of the ever-developing aviation sector.

Be assured that we will continue to work with our industry partners to maintain the exceptional level of aviation safety Canadians already enjoy, as safety is a responsibility we all share.

Martin J. Eley
Director General
Transport Canada, Civil Aviation

February 24 - National Aviation Day - Celebrate Canada's Air Transportation Safety, Strength and Success!

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