Helicopter Industry Assn Critical of Current Transport Canada Regulations

A Skyline Agusta-Westland AW 119 Koala.

In the wake of a fatal helicopter crash in Northern British Columbia that claimed the lives of two Italian tourists as well as their guide (from New Zealand) and their pilot (from Kelowna) on January 22 during a heli-ski operation, an industry association is calling for Transport Canada to raise its safety standards to match those already practised by its members.

“Our members have found it beneficial to go above and beyond the standards as regulated by Transport Canada,” said Trevor Mitchell, CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC), in an interview with Global News. “We’ve been doing this for a number of years, I would say decades.” Mitchell referred to Safety Management Systems (SMS) used by HAC members as being world-leading best practices and has been pressing Transport Canada to adopt them through regulatory changes.

“We still expect the federal government to catch up to industry at some point in time,” added Mitchell. “We are hearing now maybe two to five years they will have these regulations in play for the rest of the industry stakeholders, but many of the helicopter operators have already taken this upon themselves.”

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, which involved a Skyline Helicopters Agusta Westland AW 119 Koala, and has dispatched a team to Terrace, the nearest city to the accident site. The BC Coroners Service and WorkSafeBC are also investigating.

“Our industry has been waiting for these for 16 years and they still haven’t been put in play,” said Mitchell of the SMS standards. “But many of our members, if not all of our members, have independently instituted those safety programs.”

Another industry association, one that is dedicated to heli-ski operators, weighed in on the topic. Helicat Canada executive director Ross Cloutier, a veteran of over 40 years in the industry across more than 30 countries, said that Canada’s heli-ski industry has “the highest standards in the world.” Referring to the B.C. crash, Cloutier commented, “It’s very rare. I mean, our data is we’ve only had four other fatal helicopter crashes in the 60 years that the industry has been around. I think at this point we just need to leave it to the Transportation Safety Board to do their investigation.”