by Jack Danylchuk
July 5, 2012
A safety device that might have averted two fatal crashes in the North last year will become mandatory on commercial aircraft within two years, federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel announced last Wednesday.
Lebel said the Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS) “will help save lives.” The Canadian Federal Pilots Association welcomed the announcement, but not the delay in making TAWS mandatory on all aircraft with more than five seats.
“This has been on the books as a recommendation since 2003,” said Daniel Slunder, chairman of the association that represents federal pilots employed in federal aviation inspection, regulation and certification. “It’s been mandatory in the US since 2005, now it’s going to take another two years to become law in Canada. That’s unacceptable.”
TAWS was developed in response to Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT), one of the greatest causes of commercial aviation fatalities. CFIT occurs when an airworthy aircraft, under the control of the flight crew, is flown unintentionally into terrain, obstacles or water, usually with no prior awareness by the crew.
In a preliminary report released this past January, Transportation Safety Board investigators said CFIT characterized the First Air crash last August in Resolute Bay.
Flight 6560 flew into a hill while attempting to land in foggy weather, killing the crew of four and all but three of eleven passengers aboard the Boeing 727-200C. According to sources, it was the only plane in First Air’s fleet of 737s without TAWS.
First Air officials said they are waiting for the TSB’s final report on the crash; they declined to comment on information senior employees recommended TAWS be installed in the plane, as well as the newly announced safety requirement.
Pilot association chairman Slunder said the TSB does not assign blame in its reports, but given its interest in CFIT and TAWS, will probably examine the operation of First Air’s safety management system which would hold a paper trail of recommendations and the company’s response.
The federal government signaled its intention to move on TAWS last December, following the release of the preliminary report on the First Air crash. Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said the decision to make the system mandatory was “overdue.”
Bromley’s nephew Matthew was at the controls of an Air Tindi plane that collided in foggy weather with a 180-metre cliff last October during a flight to Lutsel K’e. The crash killed the pilot and passenger Timmothy Harris, an NWT Power Corp. employee.
That Air Tindi Cessna 208B was not equipped with the warning system, and the TSB has not issued a report on its investigation into the crash.
Air Tindi President Sean Loutitt said Wednesday’s announcement came as no surprise. “It’s been on the books for years,” he said.
The new requirement will affect about 40 per cent of Air Tindi’s fleet – mostly smaller aircraft. It will cost the company as much as $1 million to bring them into compliance.
Last August’s Resolute Bay crash cost First Air at least one corporate customer. Suncor dropped the company from its list of charter suppliers to carry personnel to its Fort McMurray bitumen mining operations.
Like many energy companies operating north of Fort McMurray, Suncor has its own fleet, supplemented with aircraft and crews supplied by outside carriers. Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said First Air would not be used again until the TSB makes its final report on the accident.
“We owe it to our people to provide them with safe and reliable transportation,” Seetal said. “We will not use them until the investigation is complete.”