Garneau backs TSB on adding black boxes to small planes


Four days after former Alberta premier Jim Prentice died in an unexplained plane crash in B.C., Minister of Transport Marc Garneau is asking his department to look into adding black boxes to smaller planes that aren’t currently required to have them.

The Cessna Citation carrying Prentice and three other passengers did not have voice or data recording devices on board, nor was it required to carry either of the devices under current regulations.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigators have said that their investigation into the crash will be challenging without the devices.

Speaking in Ottawa on Tuesday, Garneau said he issued a communique Monday night asking Transport Canada to study the issue.

“I think that it’s a good time for us to look at the issue of whether or not we want to extend the use of data and voice recorders to aircraft that currently do not have to have them,” Garneau said.

The TSB has pushed for cockpit voice recorders in smaller planes for decades, dating back as far as 1988. The agency is once again calling on the government and aviation industry to address what it considers a safety shortfall.

“If we are to get to the underlying causes of these tragic accidents, Transport Canada and the aviation industry need to take immediate action to address this outstanding safety issue,” said TSB chairwoman Kathy Fox in a statement.

According to the safety board, only multi-engine, turbine-powered aircrafts with two pilots and at least six passengers are required to carry a voice recorder in the cockpit. The plane carrying Prentice was certified to be flown by one pilot.

One of the reasons the government didn’t act on the recommendation earlier, Garneau says, was financial concerns.

“Twenty years ago when the TSB first brought up the question of data and voice recorders, there was a very limited availability and they were extremely expensive,” he said.

“But there are more modern recorders today, and so I’ve asked the department to look at what is on the market and then we’ll look at whether or not we’ll put them in airplanes that are not currently required to do it.”

While Garneau has already tasked his ministry with looking into the issue, there’s no indication as to when possible changes could be introduced or new legislation tabled.

“I think we’re talking about looking at over the next few months what’s available on the market, having a discussion about it, and then if legislation follows, it’ll come after that. I can’t predict exactly how long that will take,” Garneau said.

Asked about the crash that killed Prentice, Garneau did not directly comment when asked if a black box would have made the investigation easier.

“Obviously black boxes that provide data or voice add to the information that’s available when there is an inquiry. But as I say, these devices in the past have been extremely expensive with limited choice … for airplanes that wanted to carry them voluntarily. But now there is a better market, so we’ll see what happens.”

Investigators are currently working off little information from the crash. The small jet, piloted by retired RCMP officer Jim Kruk, took off from Kelowna, B.C. on Thursday night and crashed a few minutes after takeoff.

TSB investigators said there were no emergency calls or distress signals from the plane, and that it disappeared off radar shortly after its departure.

Images released Saturday night by the TSB show the wreckage of the small plane, which landed in a remote area outside Kelowna and caused substantial damage to surrounding brush.

All four passengers – including Calgary optometrist Ken Gellatly and businessman Sheldon Reid — died in the crash.

With files from the Canadian Press