Safety watchdog urges Ottawa to update rules to combat pilot fatigue

Safety watchdog urges Ottawa to update rules to combat pilot fatigue

OTTAWA—Canadian rules that govern how long commercial pilots can be on duty are out-of-date and lag international standards, warns the Transportation Safety Board of Canada which is urging Ottawa to move ahead with modernized regulations.

The issue of fatigue was among the urgent safety issues flagged by the safety board on Monday as it released its updated watch list of risks that threaten transportation in Canada.

“We think this has to be approached from a more modern, holistic, scientific perspective, recognizing that human beings need to sleep and that people working at night, particularly in the wee hours of the morning, are more susceptible to impairment by fatigue,” Kathy Fox, chair of the safety board, told a news conference.

“Transport Canada itself recognizes that their current duty regulations are out of date, they are not compliant or consistent with international standards or what is known about fatigue science,” Fox said.

Fatigue has been a factor in more than 90 occurrences across all modes of transport since the early 1990s, according to the board.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the tired pilots mistakenly lined up on a parallel taxiway, rather than the runway. They aborted the landing only at the last minute, narrowly missing a line of jets.

Transport Canada has been working on revised rules to govern how long pilots can be on duty but facing pressure from pilot unions on one side and air carriers on the other, it has yet to move ahead with its final regulations.

“We think it’s time for (Transport Canada) to get on with it,” Fox said.

Fatigue was among safety board’s updated watchlist that lists seven areas of concern.

The board also took at aim at safety management systems, which transportation firms, such as airlines, use to self-police their operations to detect hazards. The issue has been on the board’s watch list since 2010 yet the board notes that many companies are still not required to have safety management systems.

Effective safety managements require adequate regulatory oversight yet the safety board says that Transport Canada has not always identified shortfalls in those safety systems that do exist.

In the rail sector, the board urged further action to ensure that train crews follow signal indications, including the possibility of new defences to prevent trains from passing signals ordering them to stop.

On the aviation front, the board raised concern about runway incursions, when an aircraft or vehicle enters a runway into the path of an arriving or departing aircraft. Nationwide, there were an average of 445 incursions a year between 2013 and 2017 — more than one a day. In each of the last two years there have been 21 close calls that could have resulted in a collision.

Suggested remedies include improvements in air traffic control procedures, surveillance and warning systems and better design of runways and taxiways.

The safety board launched a special investigation after a spate of incursions at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. That report is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

The board also flagged the danger of runway overruns, where an aircraft goes off the end of a runway during landing or aborted take-off. It urged Transport Canada to adopt international standards to provide safe overrun areas at the ends of runways.

On the marine front, the safety board is warning about the dangers of the commercial fishing industry, which has seen 17 fatalities this year.

Three issues were removed from the list because of progress to resolve safety concerns — the transportation of flammable liquids by rail; the need for voice and video recorders in locomotives; and unstable landing approaches.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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