What the Auditor General really said about Transport Canada
The AG's 2012 Spring Report caused a media storm earlier this month. Here's our summary of what he found out about TC's oversight of civil aviation.
Tuesday April 24th 2012 - by Fred Petrie
Canadaâ€™s new Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, released his 2012 Spring Report to Parliament on April 3. The Report dealt with five areas of government operations, including â€œOversight of Civil Aviationâ€”Transport Canadaâ€ in Chapter 5.
Why should you care? Let me quote the AGâ€™s own remarks to Parliament:
â€œWhile Canada compares favourably with many other countries in its aviation safety record, any deterioration would significantly impact public confidence. This makes it critical that Transport Canada maintain a robust and effective regulatory framework for civil aviation safety.â€
The AG set out four criteria for the audit conducted in 2011.
1. â€œWhether Transport Canada has implemented a suitable civil aviation safety regulatory framework.â€
The AG found that â€œTransport Canada has a comprehensive regulatory frameworkâ€ (and that it meets Canadaâ€™s international obligations). However, the AG criticized the process for addressing emerging safety issues as â€œlengthy.â€
What is a â€œRegulatory Framework?â€ The AG defines it in three tiers. First, the Aeronautics Act is the departmentâ€™s authority (through the minister) to control civil aviation activities. Then the Canadian Aviation Regulations set the minimum legal requirements for the safe operation of air carriers, aircraft, airports and maintenance organizations. Thirdly, Standards set out criteria and conditions to provide industry a means of compliance â€œand to help the industry understand how to fulfill Transport Canadaâ€™s expectations for meeting a regulation.â€ Other safety measures like educational activities to â€œpromoteâ€ aviation safety could be seen as a fourth tier, or left out of the regulatory framework.
2. â€œWhether Transport Canada has appropriately monitored the compliance of air carriers, maintenance organizations, and large airports against the civil aviation safety regulatory framework, with a focus on high safety risks and by using an adequate surveillance methodology.â€
The AG found that risk-based surveillance planning â€œlacks rigour,â€ that risk assessment guidance was lacking and that risk assessment varied significantly between companies, sectors and regions. Also he found that compiling risk information to develop risk profiles was lacking in defining information required and in defining a process to collect this information. TC has not defined the minimum level of surveillance required, to provide adequate assurance that operations are being conducted within the terms of their authorization. While â€œNational Planning Frequenciesâ€ require aviation companies to be inspected annually (consistent with ICAO standards) â€œabout 70 per cent of aviation companies across the country were not inspected in 2010-11.â€
The AG next looked at TCâ€™s â€œstandardized approach for consistent surveillance.â€ The AGâ€™s report of 2008 had observed that TC â€œhad not explained how the day-to-day work of inspectors would change as activities related to Safety Management Systems (SMS) were integrated with traditional oversight activitiesâ€. TC has now developed a standardized surveillance methodology (staff instruction SUR-001). While the AG found it contained several key elements, it was lacking in defining the minimum documentation needed to support key judgements made by inspectors, and how management should be involved in reviewing those decisions.
The AG also criticised that TC only inspected 67 per cent of the companies that it had planned to inspect in 2010-11. This was significant in that only higher-risk companies are included in the annual surveillance plan. Then the AG found that â€œmost inspections are not consistently conductedâ€ (based on a review of 74 inspection files completed in 2010-11). A principal reason is inspector training. While by March 2011, a majority of inspectors had received training on SMS, interview skills and quality assurance, only 40 per cent had been trained on the new surveillance methodology (and that untrained inspectors had carried out much of the 2010-11 inspections). The AG recommendation for more management oversight of surveillance planning and conduct is simply the most basic element of quality assurance.
3. â€œWhether Transport Canada has adequately planned the human resources it will need to deliver its aviation safety programâ€.
Despite the above observations about much of the planned work not getting done, and inspectors not having the training for the new surveillance methods, the AG concluded that TC had â€œstrengthened its human resources planning,â€ although there were still some gaps in competencies related to the new organization structure for operating in multi-disciplinary teams. But more fundamentally, the department has still not identified how many inspectors it will need to conduct inspections under the new surveillance approach. â€œProgress has been made to implement human resources strategies, but a lot remains to be done.â€
4. â€œWhether Transport Canada has a plan to implement an adequate quality assurance program to promote continuous improvement of civil aviation safety.â€
The AG had already reported in its 2008 audit that TC has â€œno national mechanism for monitoring consistency in oversight activities or risk assessments.â€ In planning the 2011 audit, the AG was told by TC that it had not yet implemented a quality assurance program. So instead, the AG focused its work on the expectation that TC had an approved plan to implement a program, but all the AG was able to find was that TC was â€œworking on terms of reference for developingâ€ its plan. Again recommending a plan for QA, and making it a priority, the department has promised to have QA in place by March 2013.
In conclusion, the AG acknowledged that:
â€œTransport Canada has shown leadership in moving Canada toward a regulatory framework that includes a safety management systems (SMS) approach. Its actions were designed to promote civil aviation safety in Canada, with the objective of maintaining our good safety record into the future. As the first member of the international community to move to SMS, it faced significant challenges without the benefit of othersâ€™ experience. Transport Canada has made progress in adapting its regulatory framework to one based on SMS and in developing a surveillance methodology that is in line with an SMS approach to civil aviation safety.
â€œOn a program-wide basis, however, we concluded that Transport Canada is not adequately managing the risks associated with its civil aviation oversight. The significant weaknesses that need to be addressed involve how the Department plans, conducts, and reports on its surveillance activities. While we found examples where surveillance activities met our audit criteria, most inspection files that we reviewed fell short and did not follow Transport Canadaâ€™s own established methodology. We found limited evidence of management review and involvement in surveillance activities. We also found that many fewer inspections are done than planned.
â€œWe also concluded that Transport Canada has not adequately planned the human resources it will need to deliver its civil aviation safety program. It has developed a national human resources plan and made progress in implementing key human resource strategies, but it has not identified how many inspectors and engineers are needed to oversee civil aviation safety.
â€œFinally, we concluded that Transport Canada does not have an approved plan to implement an adequate quality assurance program that will promote continuous improvement of its civil aviation safety program.
â€œFor decades, Transport Canadaâ€™s approach to overseeing civil aviation safety remained unchanged. The Department faced challenges as the first nation to move to an SMS-based approach in the aviation industry. It has made real progress, with large aviation companies now working in the SMS regulatory framework. Transport Canada has revised its surveillance methodology so it is consistent with this new approach, and inspections are being carried out under its instructions. Senior management now needs to concentrate its efforts on ensuring that staff apply the approved methodology consistently and rigorously, that managers provide the necessary review and supervision, and that an effective continuous improvement program is put in place. Otherwise, Transport Canada will not have the assurance it needs that the industry is operating in compliance with the regulatory framework for civil aviation safety in Canada.â€
The first dawn-to-dusk trans-Canada flight was completed by J.H. Tudhop and J.D. Hunter in July 1937. The journey, between Montreal and Vancouver, took the pair 17 hours and 35 minutes. www.canadiangeographic.ca