Transportation Safety Board releases new safety recommendations for small aircraft

The Transportation Safety Board released four new recommendations Thursday for the operators of small aircraft in Canada.

The recommendations stem from 14-years of data the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) analyzed — from 2000 to 2014. The board looked at more than 700 incidents involving aircraft carrying fewer than 10 passengers, also known as air taxis. Investigators have put forth 22 recommendations to Transport Canada on how safety can be improved on these aircraft, such as implementing seat belts with chest harnesses and ones designed for children.

Thursday's announcement is aimed at eliminating the acceptance of unsafe practices, like flying overweight or in bad weather. Investigators say economic pressures to fly has made operators complacent and has put pressure on pilots to fly under unsafe conditions.

James Mackenzie/Canadian Press

"Although these vital air links have helped build Canada and sustain its population, air-taxi operations are at higher risk," said TSB chair Kathy Fox during a press conference in Ottawa Thursday. 

"The air-taxi sector continues to have more accidents and more fatalities than all other sectors of commercial aviation combined."

The first recommendation calls on Transport Canada to collaborate with industry associations to develop tools and education programs to cut down on the acceptance of unsafe practices. 

"I'm not talking about flagrant rule violations, I'm talking about a gradual drift that occurs over time with every successful, though not necessarily safe, flight," said TSB senior investigator, Glen Whitney. 

"For instance, flying overweight, or flying into marginal weather or flying with minimal fuel reserves." 

The TSB also calls on industry associations like the Northern Air Transportation Association to share best safety practices, tools and data specific to air taxis.

Investigators also interviewed air-taxi operators around the country and found that companies often have very different safety standards. Some go above and beyond the current safety regulations, while other operators simply comply with the bare minimum regulations. In its recommendations, the TSB calls on Transport Canada to review those gaps and to update the current safety standard.

It also calls on Transport Canada to require all commercial operators to report aircraft data like the number of hours flown. The TSB says this data will allow it to see if current safety strategies are working and will be used to calculate accident rates. 

Transport Canada now has 90 days to respond to how it will implement the four new recommendations.