TSB Recommends Flight Recorders for Some Commercial and Private Aircraft

Canadian safety agency leaps ahead of U.S. regulators with flight recorder recommendation.

flight recorder
This L3 flight data recorder weighs less than five pounds.L3

Kathy Fox, Chair of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said, "We don't like having to say 'We don't know' when asked what caused an accident and why." To minimize those kinds of responses to the families of victims of aircraft accidents, the media and the rest of the industry, the TSB is recommending the mandatory installation of lightweight flight recorders on all Canadian commercial and private business operators not currently required to carry them. As is the relationship between the NTSB and the FAA here in the U.S., the TSB can only make recommendations to Transport Canada. In the U.S., the FAA requires flight data recorders aboard multi-engine turbine powered aircraft operating under an air carrier certificate with 10 or more seats, or if operated with two required pilots, any multi-engine turbine aircraft with seats for six or more passengers.

Precipitating the TSB's action last week, was the October 13, 2016 crash of a Cessna Citation 500 on a night instrument flight between Kelowna Airport in British Columbia and Calgary's Springbank Airport in Alberta. The aircraft was being flown by a single pilot with three passengers aboard. Shortly after departure, the aircraft departed controlled flight, entered a steep descending right turn and struck the ground killing everyone on board. Impact forces and a post-impact fire destroyed the aircraft. No emergency radio call was heard prior to the accident.

The TSB said the lack of a flight recorder made determining the cause of the accident impossible. The TSB did say the most plausible scenario was that the pilot, who was likely dealing with the high workload associated with single-pilot operations, experienced spatial disorientation and lost control of the aircraft. The pilot also did not have the recent night flying experience required by Transport Canada for carrying passengers at night.

Fox said, "We want to be able to provide definitive answers to the victims' families, to Canada's aviation industry, to the Canadian public. This is why we are calling today for the mandatory installation of lightweight flight recording systems on commercial and private business aircraft not currently required to carry them."

The TSB’s report also focused on a problem that might have prevented the accident, Transport Canada’s oversight of private business aviation in Canada. During the course of its investigation, the TSB found no record that the operator of the aircraft – Norjet Inc. – had ever been inspected by TC.

As such, TC was unaware of safety deficiencies in that company’s flight operations, such as its failure to obtain approval for single-pilot operation of the Citation and the pilot's lack of recent night flying experience. Since this occurrence, TC said it has begun conducting targeted inspections of private business operators.