Good afternoon. My name is Carlos DaCosta. I'm an airline coordinator for the IAMAW for Canada. We represent aviation workers, as many as 17,000, in all areas of aviation, of whom 8,000 are mechanics involved in maintenance of various airlines going from Air Canada, Air Transat, Bearskin, and Air Labrador. One-third of the licensed technicians in Canada are represented by the IAM, and they're contained within the 8,000, so it's probably about one-third of that as well.
In my previous career I was a mechanic for Air Canada for 20 years before going on to the union path career. I have worked on the floor on various wide-body aircraft as a mechanic.
As an airline coordinator, I and other people in the IAM have written articles on SMS based on research conducted in the United States and Canada and by personally attending Transport Canada SMS sessions held across the country to inform the public of the details of the SMS process. The IAM believes, based on this research, that the SMS system is flawed, and have recently started collecting data to see if it supports our theories of the flaws that we have discovered in doing the research.
The main problem we have with SMS is that there appears to be a conflict of interest in having a company that has the best interest of operating a company and operating a budget be also responsible for safety. Again, it's a hunch, and unless we have the data to support it, it becomes a theory. That's why we have some data to support the fact that some of these incidents are starting to appear, which is alarming.
We are specifically also concerned about the lack of Transport Canada oversight on what's going on at the SMS-level process, and especially below that process--in other words, on the floor while the aircraft are being repaired.
Transport Canada, in its claims, states that it's another layer on top of regulations, which is basically a quote lifted from the ICAO document. In reality, we are not seeing it as a second layer but an alleged process that is not working. It's an alleged process that does not contemplate checking below this SMS process level.
It was interesting to hear the previous speaker saying that the inspectors are only inspecting the paperwork, but that is what our mechanics are starting to tell us. That is all they see. They don't see anybody on the floor any more doing spot checks. Obviously, by not going below this SMS process level, Transport Canada cannot begin to understand what is actually happening on the floor.
As I stated earlier, we have a few incidents to report. Unfortunately, they've only come from one airline, one of the larger ones in this country, but as our process is put into place over the next several months, we will be collecting data from other companies that we represent.
Clearly, the concerns I'm about to raise support some of our fears. I'm not going to get into names or specific situations, but I'll give you a flavour so that you understand what is happening and why the Transport Canada SMS process is not capturing these.
What we've seen recently at the one airline is the practice of the airline disciplining employees when their names are uncovered as a result of an action through an SMS process. Clearly, this is a violation of the SMS process as put forward by Transport Canada. If it becomes a punitive process, then where is the incentive for someone to come forward in the future and volunteer information that they made a mistake and it should be corrected so that others don't make the same mistake?
We had a situation in Vancouver where a lead licensed mechanic was disciplined. He followed procedures correctly as per the manual. The manual indicated that this is how you do the job and this is how you install the tool. He proceeded to install a tool that was not approved by Transport Canada. He questioned that. He was more or less led down the path where he was told that it was fine and just follow the procedures. He went on to do that.
The next shift comes along and a new group of mechanics take over the job. They follow the procedures in the manual. They don't recognize the tool because it is not labelled and it's not painted differently from the standard tools that are used. As a result of a mistake in the maintenance manual put out by Airbus--and it has been confirmed by Airbus that it was a mistake--they did not remove it because they didn't know that it was a tool that was already installed. When the SMS process and the investigation kicked in to find out what was going on, the employees who did not remove the tool were disciplined.
Where is the incentive for SMS to work? Where is the example to show other mechanics in the future, “You know, I've made an honest mistake, I'd like to come forward and I'd like you to tell me where I've erred, because I think there's something wrong”? It's not there. And that's only one incident.
We had another incident in Winnipeg where a mechanic was trying to repair a seat in the cockpit. Something went wrong in the system. The seat got sidetracked somewhere else. The employee was then asked to grab a seat and improperly fill out a tag so that it could be properly used on that airplane. He was instructed to do so by his manager. He was told that he'd better follow instructions or he would be disciplined. He refused. He was disciplined. An investigation is taking place, as I was advised this morning, and we'll see what comes of that. But this is the atmosphere in which an airline, who is supposed to be a partner in the SMS process, is practising.
We have two incidents in Toronto. One is where workers were asked to do repairs on an aircraft during the midnight shift, in dark weather, with improper lighting, improper tooling, improper equipment, and stands so that they could access it. They asked that the airplane be routed to the hangar for proper repairs, something I have done in my previous career. Sometimes you can be accommodated, sometimes you can't. If it is serious enough, they will postpone their repairs and the aircraft gets delayed, or they switch it with another aircraft.
The employees were told there was no such ability and they'd better do the job or else. Because they were put in that hostile situation, they refused to perform the job under the Labour Code. Labour Canada came in, and within their capability and their knowledge and training, they deemed the situation was not a dangerous one. The employees were then threatened by being told by the company, “You'd better not do this again. Learn your lesson and tell others that you cannot refuse to work. When we tell you to do something in a certain location, you'd better do it and do what's best for the airline to get the airplane out on time.”
We had another situation in Montreal, where an employee who works in a shop where they overhaul individual parts for an aircraft noticed a trend whereby shortcuts were being taken and the maintenance manuals were not followed. You have to understand that when you work on an aircraft, it's not quite the same as working on a car. You can't simply do what you think is right; you have to basically follow the manual and then apply your knowledge and experience in doing the repairs.
As a result of these shortcuts that were being taken, rightfully or wrongfully, he believed there was something wrong. He filed an SMS report. The SMS report has buried his incident. He has gone to Transport Canada, to no avail. They would not speak to him unless they spoke one on one.
At the end of the day, what we have is an atmosphere.... And I've been talking to employees. What they're saying is, what is the purpose of coming forward and saying there's an incident, that they've found a mistake, that they found an error, or found somebody who did something wrong, though he probably doesn't realize what he did? Where is the advantage in doing so when you know your friend is going to get disciplined? What they will do, in turn, is hide and deal with the issues themselves. As a mechanic, I know they will not take shortcuts on maintenance, I can tell you that much. But if left to your own measures, where does that lead the whole aviation industry in the future?
We're talking about a reputable airline. If you look at what happened with Southwest, they are no less nor more reputable than all the airlines in Canada; neither is American Airlines and neither is Continental. Yet the Americans have a rigorous system whereby they do spot audits and so on. As a result of the whistle-blower protection, employees came forward and some of these airlines were grounded and fined.
What makes you think it won't happen in Canada? We're all human beings. We all have a vested interest in where we work. As a manager, I might be looking at operations and budgets over safety. As a worker, I might be looking at how to get home on time, how to do the job safely, cover my butt, and make sure that when that airplane takes off, it takes off and lands safely, because it could be my cousin up there or it could be my brother.
At the end of the day, the system is definitely flawed. Some of these examples are starting to come forward. Over the next few months, as I get more and more data, I will definitely be directing these at Transport Canada and anybody else who will listen.