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Friday, June 1, 2007

Canada Weighs Plan to Shift Regulatory Roles to Industry

Canadian aviation regulators are reviewing an assessment by the nation’s helicopter industry on how the industry might take on more management of the aviation regulation system.

Transport Canada in 2003 shifted some management of standardization, certification, and oversight of business aviation to the Canadian Business Aviation Assn. as part of a broader effort to boost the efficiency of Canadian government operations. It subsequently asked the Helicopter Assn. of Canada (HAC) to consider similar changes in the management of helicopter air operator certificates.

The Canadian government says the shift of roles to the business aviation group four years ago has allowed Transport Canada "to redirect substantial resources to more productive oversight activities."

Transport Canada and the association set up a task force to assess the feasibility of the idea, and that group found it had merit. The association judged such a move mutually beneficial and has proposed fleshing out a detailed agreement between it and Transport Canada to move forward. The association largely represents commercial helicopter operators in Canada.

HAC officials briefed their members on the study at their annual convention in mid-April in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The group sees several advantages in a move toward self-management of helicopter operations. One, said Brian Jenner, president and CEO of the Canadian helicopter group, is that the safety record of the helicopter industry in Canada has been steady for 20 years. Improving it will require a different approach, which self-management might produce. Another is that such a change would put a profit motive behind safety advances.

"Under industry self-management," HAC said in its study of the proposal, "competitive pressure from the majority of operators could impose enhanced safety oversight on any operators whose safety culture is deficient."

A third, Jenner said, is that self-management would finally give the helicopter industry a regulatory oversight group well versed in its operations and idiosyncrasies. Regulation of helicopters by Transport Canada "has been basically an afterthought" because the agency is heavily focused on dealing with commercial airlines.

Some public reaction in Canada raised the spectre of the government deregulating aviation safety. Jenner disputed that.

"This has nothing to do with de-regulation or self-regulation," he said. "It has everything to do with industry self-management of safety oversight." He noted that Transport Canada would have veto power over any regulatory-related actions of the industry oversight group.

Jenner said he expected Transport Canada and HAC to take about a year to agree on a framework for industry self-management and then flesh out that framework. If the government and HAC members approve that work, he estimated, it would take two years to initiate the program and 5-6 years to fully implement it.

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