Survey on Transport Canada’s Inspectors Suggests They Have Not Been Fully Trained
A Learning Lesson for the FAA
- 81 percent of inspectors surveyed predicted a major aviation accident soon;
- “pilot inspectors haven’t flown an actual aircraft in years and a majority report they have not been trained for the work they are asked to do.”
- The TC inspectors pointed to Safety Management Systems (SMS), which transfers responsibility for setting acceptable levels of risk and monitoring safety performance to the airlines themselves.
- They assert that “SMS imposes a heavy administrative burden,
- inspectors are now largely office-bound
- spending more time reviewing paperwork
- than inspecting aircraft, and
- they conduct SMS surveillance of airlines less frequently than ever before.
- “Annual inspections have given way to SMS reviews that can happen as infrequently as every five years or more.”
- “Even at this pace, Transport Canada’s inspectors can’t keep up; according to internal documents Transport Canada has completed only 50 percent of its planned SMS assessments in 2016/17.”
- “Abacus found a wide majority (81 percent) see Transport Canada’s SMS as a barrier that prevents them from identifying and fixing safety problems before they become accidents or incidents.”
- “Three-in-four (73 percent) believe SMS has exposed the public to elevated risk.”
To quote the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, “what we got here is a failure to communicate.” Perhaps, this Canadian example can provide the FAA with a learning opportunity.
SMS is intended to be a Sea Change. Its origin was based on a recognition that the regulators needed a better way to “regulate” certificate holders. It is a data-driven regimen. Instead of trying to surveil each and every safety-related activity (a practical impossibility), SMS relies on analysis to identify specific areas which needed the aviation authority’s attention. No longer would inspectors spend hours of unfocused review of airlines’ records and random flight checks; SMS points them to specific risks on a prioritized basis.
The Abacus survey results suggest that the inspectors have not been fully trained (or educated but did not retain the logic and language of SMS). The transition from the surveillance technique upon which most CAAs relied for the last 30+ years to SMS is a difficult one for the existing work force. In the past, they were expected to review documents and performance against checklists. Today, to utilize SMS the field personnel need to understand meta data, to be able to interpret regression analyses, to comprehend risk analyses, etc.To move from the old methods to the new rubric requires that the individual already is able to work with the SMS metrics or that the inspector be educated on the new mathematics.
The FAA would be well advised to go North and learn from their Canadian friends, to see what might have been done better.