Canada has decided to delay compliance with its aviation safety management system for smaller operators and maintenance organizations until the beginning of 2011 or later.

Safety Management Systems (SMS) are ICAO-designed schemes that identify safety hazards, develop remedial actions if necessary to maintain necessary levels of safety, outline continuous monitoring and regular assessment of safety levels achieved and aim for continuous improvement in safety monitoring.

Transport Canada explains that based on recent feedback from inspectors and the industry, it has decided to delay SMS adoption for those two industry sectors to allow for additional time to refine procedures, training and guidance material.

Originally the first phase regulations for air taxi and commuter operators and aircraft maintenance organisations were scheduled for publication this month followed by phase two in the winter of 2010.

Now the regulations are being pushed back to January 2011 or later. "This will allow more time for the industry to prepare for SMS implementation, and for Transport Canada to refine oversight tools and provide more training for front line employees," the regulator explains.

Reiterating its full support of the SMS concept Transport Canada says previously inspectors relied on physical inspections to determine a company's regulatory compliance. But SMS allows inspectors to perform rigorous audits supported by inspections and employee interviews "to verify they are taking proactive steps to get ahead of problems before they become serious, something inspectors could not do before".

The delay occurs as National Chair of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association (CFPA) Captain Daniel Slunder voiced concerns over SMS to Canadian legislators.

He explains Canada's largest carriers Air Canada and WestJet have been operating under the SMS regime since 2005.

Slunder argues that SMS allows airlines and other aviation business to self monitor, which he believes has effectively weakened aviation safety within Canada.

He cites a 9 October incident involving an Air Canada flight that was operating from Toronto to Winnipeg, but diverted to Grand Forks, North Dakota due to an unexpected closure of the Winnipeg airport.

The equipment needed to restart the engine after refueling was not operable when the aircraft departed Toronto, and Slunder says US immigration formalities prevented passengers from exiting the aircraft when it diverted to North Dakota. "While at Grand Forks, the aircraft re-fueled with the engines running, and that action placed those passengers and crew on board at risk," he says.

Slunder also expresses concern the captain decided to take-off from Grand Forks despite being told the aircraft wings were contaminated with ice. He claims that Transport Canada has not taken any action regarding the incident.

"I regret to inform you that Transport Canada aviation inspectors now spend more time pushing paper than inspecting airplanes. Without oversight of operations, inspectors cannot say with certainty that airlines are safely in compliance - we just don't know," says Slunder.

Among the recommendations Slunder made to improve SMS are delivering effective training for the scheme to employees and ensuring adequate inspection resources exist.

Air Canada has swiftly rebuffed Slunder's claims, calling them false and misleading. The carrier says the flight crew inspected the aircraft's wings in accordance with Transport Canada regulations, and determined no ice was present on the surfaces.

An unavailability of ground power at Grand Forks led the flight crew, after consulting with flight dispatchers, to refuel with passengers onboard. While Air Canada admits it is not certified for that procedure, the aircraft manufacturer's specifications do allow fueling with the engines running. Additionally the carrier stresses emergency vehicles were present at the refueling.

"Transport Canada was notified immediately of the incident and the airline continues to work with the regulator to review its procedures to determine whether changes are required," the carrier says.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news