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The Time is Now to Consider Alternatives to the New Flight & Duty Time Regulations

Since the last edition of the Newsletter, I met with Nick Robinson, Transport Canada’s new Director General, to speak with him about the fallout from the recently-published Flight & Duty Time Regulations. I believe that he understands the disastrous consequences that the new regulations will have on our industry segment. HAC believes that while the new regulations will have the effect of nudging the large carriers to FRMS, they will drive helicopter operators to FRMS at gunpoint. That is, the new regulations are such a radical departure from the current rules for helicopter operations, that they will be forced to seek some relief through the application of a FRMS. FRMS in its simplest form, is SMS applied to fatigue – that is, fatigue is just another risk to be managed. Having said that, while many helicopter operators have embraced SMS, Transport Canada has been struggling for 15 years to find a way to mandate SMS for CAR 703 and CAR 704 operators. SMS was held out as a mechanism for operators to obtain relief from prescriptive regulations by providing equivalent levels of safety.  Sounds familiar? It never happens.  For example, everyone is agreed that SMS should be scalable for the “size and complexity” of the operation – but Transport Canada is finding it hard to operationalize that objective, and to draft regulations that “fit” Air Taxi and Commuter operations. It goes without saying, that operators who do not have an SMS, will find it more difficult to implement a stand-alone FRMS. It’s hard to avoid comparing Transport Canada’s aspirational objective to implement SMS in CAR 703 and 704 operations to their promise to seriously consider a “scalable” FRMS for small operators. Nick Robinson did indicate that the Department is open to the potential of an Association-developed “generic” FRMS template, that could then be trialed and implemented by operators of a similar type. HAC is actively investigating this potential, as a way for its members to mitigate the four most problematic elements of the new regulations for our industry sector – namely, Tour Length; the restoration of the “zeroing” provisions; Cumulative Duty Hours; and the new Time Free from Duty provisions.  HAC has often said that the new rules will drive operators to provide Time Free from Duty, in camp, or to double-crew a single engine helicopter during deployed operations, to avoid shutting down camp field activity during mandatory Time Free from Duty.  The new rules won’t come in to effect for the helicopter industry until December 12, 2022, so this could give us some time to trial heli-specific FRMS templates, using the flexibility that the current regulations provide us.