Canadian agency, global influence

ISSN 2369-873X

10 March 2016
Posted by Brad Vardy

Image of Brad Vardy

You often hear that TSB investigators are deploying to the scene of an occurrence in Canada, or that one of our investigation reports is being released. Our domestic activities are well known and publicised. But did you know that the TSB Air Branch has a group dedicated to international activities? It may surprise you to learn that while the Air Branch deploys to about 50 domestic occurrences each year, we are involved in up to 200 foreign investigations.

How it all started

Modern civil aviation is truly global, and international standards and agreements are necessary to ensure the safety of the travelling public around the world. So how does this all happen? In 1944, a United Nations specialized agency responsible for the creation and oversight of the standards and recommended practices (SARPS) for the aviation industry, was established. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) manages the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention). Annex 13 to this document contains all of the SARPS and other guidance on how the 191 member states interact when there is an aviation occurrence. It also identifies the six types of States with respect to aviation occurrences:

  1. State of Occurrence – This country has the responsibility to conduct the investigation
  2. State of Registry – Where the aircraft is registered
  3. State of Design – The State in which the aircraft or component is designed, and where the type certificate is held
  4. State of Manufacture – Where the aircraft or component is assembled
  5. State of the Operator – The home base of the person or entity that operates the aircraft
  6. Other States – These could be countries whose citizens are involved, or those who are asked to participate in the investigation for some reason. More on that later.

When the State of Occurrence launches an investigation, the remaining States each have the right to appoint an Accredited Representative (AccRep) to the investigation.

Where does Canada fit in? And why is the TSB involved?

Canada has always been a very important player in global civil aviation, and in addition to our air carriers' international operations, we are also a major aviation manufacturing country. Manufacturers like Bombardier Aerospace, Viking Air, Bell Helicopter, Diamond Aircraft and Pratt & Whitney, along with many component manufacturers, have airplanes, helicopters, engines, landing gear and other components flying in virtually every country on Earth.

When one of these carriers or products has an occurrence in another country, information from Canada will be required, and Canada will have an interest in how the investigation is conducted. The TSB has the responsibility to coordinate and oversee Canadian involvement in the investigation, through the appointment of an AccRep. In most cases, I will appoint the TSB AccRep from the group I manage – International Operations and Major Investigations. He or she is responsible to coordinate the flow of all information relevant to Canada's involvement in the investigation. The TSB AccRep is assisted by Technical Advisors from Transport Canada (TC), the aviation regulator in Canada, and representatives from the operator of the aircraft involved, and/or manufacturer of the aircraft or engine, as appropriate.

Sharing and protecting information

So, what kind of information would flow in to and out of an investigation? Let‘s say an airliner from Canada is the subject of an investigation in the United States (U.S.). The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may require records from the operator with respect to maintenance, training, operations and maintenance manuals, crew records and scheduling, weight and balance information, flight planning etc. They may also need certain information regarding the crew or operator from TC, or air traffic control records from NAV CANADA. The TSB AccRep would coordinate this information through advisors in these organizations, and also share important safety information coming from the investigation.

Another example could be a Canadian-manufactured aircraft with Canadian-manufactured engines, operated by a foreign carrier, involved in an occurrence in Australia. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) could require information from the manufacturers about systems design, flight manual procedures, emergency procedures, or component function, etc. They could also need information from TC, which is responsible for the initial certification and continued airworthiness of these products. The TC advisor would provide records of the aircraft or engine certification testing, or maybe how the maintenance or emergency procedures were approved.

On the world stage

As mentioned earlier, the TSB makes close to 200 AccRep appointments to foreign investigations every year. That number should only increase as more and more Canadian products find their way into world-wide markets, and Canadian air carriers expand their networks. Most of the time, the occurrences are minor, and the work can be done through electronic communication. But on rare occasions when there is an accident, we may elect to send the TSB AccRep and Technical Advisors to the scene to assist. In recent years, we have sent teams to China, Russia, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, the United States, and Papua New Guinea, to name a few. Other times, we may assess the situation and decide not to send a team, due to political or safety concerns, and try to support the investigation as best we can from Canada.

The TSB is proud of its leadership position in the aviation accident investigation world, and we are privileged to be able to offer our assistance to other safety investigation authorities in many ways. Often, we are called in to assist other countries that may not have the expertise to investigate. Or, the requests may be more unique in nature, like the time we were asked to investigate a fatal mid-air collision in the United States. You can read that story in my blog post, from March 2013. We were also asked by our colleagues in Australia to conduct a peer review of the ATSB methodologies and processes. That project resulted in 14 recommendations to help improve the ATSB's system, and provided the TSB with an opportunity to learn from a trusted peer agency.

And what about our Lab?

The TSB is also fortunate to have a state-of-the-art Engineering Branch, with technical expertise in areas like metallurgy, component analysis, flight recorders, photogrammetry, and human performance. The Lab, as we call it, is often called upon to do work for other jurisdictions from around the globe, further advancing aviation safety, and contributing to our international reputation.

So the next time you hear of a Canadian carrier or product involved in an occurrence outside of Canada, you can be sure that the TSB is on the job, coordinating the Canadian response, and helping to advance aviation safety around the world.

Image of Brad Vardy

Brad Vardy began his aviation career in 1981, flying helicopters throughout most of Canada, including the high Arctic, and for United Nations missions in Asia and Africa. After his commercial career, he worked as a Senior Test Pilot for Bell Helicopter Textron and held various positions at Transport Canada. He joined the TSB in 2010 where he now holds the position of Manager, International Operations and Major Investigations. Brad is the father of two, enjoys long-distance motorcycle touring, photography, and thinks he’s an awesome chef.

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