* Watchdog warns of more accidents if changes not made
* 70 pct of aviation firms not checked in 2010-11
* Government orders action be taken to address report
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, April 3 Canada's system for monitoring
airline safety has major flaws that could result in more
accidents unless improvements are made, the government's
spending watchdog said on Tuesday.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson said that although the
transport department's regulations call for aviation companies
to be inspected every year, about 70 percent of them were not
investigated in the 2010-11 fiscal year.
"Transport Canada is not adequately managing the risks
associated with its civil aviation oversight," he said.
"The significant weaknesses that need to be addressed
involve how the department plans, conducts, and reports on its
surveillance activities," he wrote in a report.
There are more than 34,000 aircraft in Canada and a total of
more than 5,000 air carriers, maintenance firms, airports and
aerodromes. In 2010 more than 75 million passengers flew with
the borders of Canada, the world's second largest country.
In 2009 and 2010, the total number of accidents was the
lowest recorded in a 10-year span in Canada. The last serious
accident occurred last August when a First Air jet crashed in
the northern Arctic, killing 12 people.
Ferguson said that the International Civil Aviation
Organization has forecast that the current volume of air traffic
in North America could more than double by 2025.
"If nothing else changes, this increase in volume could lead
to more accidents. The department recognizes that it will have
to do more just to keep the accident rate per revenue-generating
passenger mile traveled in Canada at current levels," he said.
Transport Minister Denis Lebel, while noting Canada's good
safety record, said he had ordered his department to address the
problems identified in the report.
"The department is continuously looking for ways to make the
skies safer for all Canadians and agrees that there is still
more that can be done to improve its administration of oversight
activities," he said in a statement.
Canada moved to a new system of surveillance in 2008 that
shifted the focus away from inspecting aircraft and more toward
ensuring airlines were able to comply with safety rules.
This means Transport Canada has had to work out which
airlines might be more at risk. Ferguson, though, found that the
department was missing key information for most large air
carriers, maintenance organizations and large airports.
"The problem is particularly acute with aviation companies
and large airports that were not inspected in the previous
year," he said.
"Without complete and reliable risk profiles to conduct risk
assessments, the department may not inspect the aviation
companies that present the highest risks to aviation safety."
In 2010-11, the department only examined 67 percent of the
operations it had itself identified as higher risk.
Ferguson also found that Transport Canada overestimated the
time inspectors had to carry out surveillance work and did not
have accurate records of what the inspectors were doing.
"In the absence of such information, it is difficult for the
department to develop realistic surveillance plans," he said.