NDP critic says airline safety overlooked, underfunded

Olivia Chow says changes are needed to improve aviation safety in the north and Transport Canada doesn't have enough inspectors to monitor safety regulations.

Olivia Chow says Transport Canada doesn't have enough inspectors

Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington and Olivia Chow, the NDP's federal transport critic, say Transport Canada's safety management system bogs airlines down in paperwork. (CBC)

Changes are needed to improve aviation safety in the north and prevent future crashes, NDP Transportation Critic Olivia Chow says.

Speaking in at a press conference in Yellowknife, Olivia Chow said Transport Canada is underfunded and doesn't have enough inspectors to monitor safety regulations. 

"We mourn the tragic deaths of people, especially in the North, that have had a lot of accidents in the past. And some of those accidents are preventable," she said. "Transport Canada needs to be more accountable, (and) hire a bit more staff.

Chow also said the lengthy approval process delayed making terrain awareness and warning systems mandatory. The systems alert pilots when an aircraft is heading toward land. Ealier this month, Transport Canada made them mandatory on private turbine and commercial planes with six or more seats.

She also said the department needs to hire more staff to oversee safety regulations.

Transport Canada began began introducing a system in 2005 that aims to get airlines to police themselves. Carriers are responsible for ensuring they are following regulations and providing Transport Canada with documentation of that. Previously, federal inspectors monitored compliance directly.

Chow said the safety management system, known as SMS, bogs airlines down in paperwork.

"They put it on paper and it takes them months to get approval, even though they know that they need to do something that is safer. So that's not a good way to proceed."

Chow said approvals that are supposed to take 90 days can drag out over months.

Dennis Bevington, the MP for the Western Arctic, also said the federal government needs to invest more in infrastructure for northern airports.

"Part of the public responsibility is to provide the kind of infrastructure that can give us safe, effective transportation."

He said some runway extensions are long overdue and many northern airports are so understaffed it's difficult to clear snow or get weather information.

In the past 12 months, there have been numerous plane crashes in the territories. Twelve people died in a First Air crash in Resolute, Nunavut last August. Most recently, a helicopter crashed in the Yukon on Tuesday killing pilot Paul Rosset.

The Transportation Safety Board has not finished its final reports into any of these crashes. 

Chow said Ottawa should follow up all the recommendations that come from the investigations into the recent crashes.

She added every time a plane cannot land, it costs northerners.

"There is more fuel involved, it is not good for the environment. Any time there is a death, an accident it’s a trauma, it’s a crisis in the local community. And anytime the food doesn’t get delivered, it makes the food more costly."