Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter Operations Specifications: An Inconvenient Truth?

Operations Specifications: An Inconvenient Truth?

by Rob Freeman, Program Manager, Rotorcraft Standard, Operational and Certification Standards, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

As with much in life, aviation includes both good and bad—somewhat paradoxically—at the same time. When you were a kid, the Sunday trip to Granny’s meant the hassle of dressing up in scratchy clothes and behaving well while being terminally bored for hours. However, the reward was usually a fancy whipped-cream dessert and extra candy from the big bowl by the stained glass window. You learned to put up with it.

Similarly, the actual flying of helicopters is the best part of aviation [author’s opinion]. A technically challenging flight, skillfully and safely completed provides its own rewards and satisfaction. For older, grumpier pilots working on that fourth marriage, in-flight may be the only time you will ever see their pre-alimony smile.

The understanding of the legal considerations associated with flying is considerably less fun. A more cynical person might suspect that ground-bound administrators invented flight regulations out of jealousy, to detract from an otherwise perfect occupation.

What follows here is a quick review of the less pleasant but critical aspects of understanding air operator certificates (AOC), operations specifications (Ops Specs), and related documents, and operating within that regulatory framework. It will be a brush up for most, thankfully, but perhaps a wake-up call for others. All the same, everybody listen up. Your friends at Transport Canada (TC) have determined that it is fundamental need-to-know stuff for your holistic aviation well-being.

The issue
Through post-incident analysis, it is apparent that some operators and their employees are not aware of their obligations associated with the issuance of their AOC.

Sample questions badly answered include the following:

  • “What are the limits and conditions of the Ops Specs that apply to your operations? How would you determine this information?”
  • “Do you know when you have to apply for an authorization? What is the procedure?”
  • “Do you fully understand the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), the Commercial Air Service Standards (CASS), and definitions that are tied to your Ops Specs, authorizations or exemptions by reference?”
  • “Are there any company standard operating procedures (SOPs), training issues, or possibly aircraft limitations that need to be addressed in complying with specific conditions listed in your Ops Specs? How is this handled in your company?”

The contract or Them and us
As everyone involved in the helicopter business should know, the AOC is the foundation for commercial air operations. Tied to the licence issued by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), these documents form the contractual basis between the Government of Canada and the AOC holder for permitting commercial air operations. That’s right—it’s a legal contract.

Attached to the AOC are various Ops Specs that define the types of services offered and include conditions that must be met. Ops Specs are normally issued for recurring activities. For one-time or limited requirements, authorizations may be issued in lieu of Ops Specs. Exemptions and approvals are other tools available to TC to allow operators’ specialized activities.

All of these legal instruments have a common theme:  permitting the operation while ensuring that safety and the public interest are served. By issuing these documents, TC is confirming that the appropriate risk assessment and due diligence exercises have been completed and that the operator has been deemed competent and capable of operating within the regulatory limitations and imposed conditions.

Be aware that the Regulations, Standards and definitions are documents and terms written to comply with federal legal phrasing criteria, and as such, may be misinterpreted by the layman as to intent or application. They have to be read fully and in context, and simple words such as “and” or “or” completely change the obligations imposed. If you are not certain of the ramifications of any regulatory text, ask someone who knows for their advice—preferably your principal operations inspector (POI).

The contract or Your obligations
For the operator, all of these documents are contractual obligations. Limits and conditions specified therein must be met at all times for the operation to go forward as intended and legally authorized. And just like a business contract, there are penalties and unpleasant consequences associated with non-performance.

Operators who do not meet the conditions specified when conducting Ops Specs or authorized work place themselves in great peril if an accident should occur. Legally, they are in no man’s land and may have lost the protection afforded by the authorizing documents. A clear understanding of this point is critical. If you fail to observe all of the conditions of the AOC, the Ops Specs, the exemptions or other related documents, you are on your own if bad things happen. Ignorance of the requirements is not a viable defence.

Pilots, crew members, maintainers, and others, acting as agents of the operator, have a legal obligation to conduct their work in conformance with these same restrictions and limitations. Failure to do so jeopardizes not only the safety of the operations, but may also leave the whole organization open to civil or criminal lawsuits, actions taken under the Aeronautics Act including fines and loss of personal licences, or suspension of the AOC itself.

Fortunately, the path to enlightenment is straightforward. Take a careful look at your AOC and Ops Specs to start with. Make a list of all the obligations and conditions related to each Ops Specs so you can tick them off when verified as complied with. Make sure that you thoroughly understand the applicable regulatory references. Operational managers, above all, have a duty of care under the CARs to ensure that they establish and oversee a safe operation. They need to inform, provide for training, and direct the crews concerning their obligations. The crews must take the initiative to comply fully in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.

If you have any questions, you can always contact your regional POI. TC has a large pool of legal expertise, and clarifications or interpretations can be drafted or verified fairly quickly. At the risk of being annoying and repetitive, the best proactive protection for an operator is to be fully cognizant of the conditions and limitations attached to any authority issued by TC, and then abide by them.

Having an incident is traumatic enough. Having an incident and then finding out that you were in violation of some significant aspect(s) of your AOC is a double whammy. It can really ruin your day.


This article was published by Transport Canada in TP 185E -. Reprinted with permission

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