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Jean-Pierre Forest is pictured in his home near a piece of the plane that he was in when it crashed leaving him with a brain injury in Richmond, British Columbia on March 24, 2016. (Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail)
Jean-Pierre Forest is pictured in his home near a piece of the plane that he was in when it crashed leaving him with a brain injury in Richmond, British Columbia on March 24, 2016. (Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail)

Lawsuit reveals how aircraft operators can bypass federal safety standards Add to ...

Jean-Pierre Forest’s 1,857th skydive ended in disaster.

Mr. Forest was one of eight people on board a Beech King Air when it crashed in a cranberry field in August, 2008, about 400 metres west of Pitt Meadows airport. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada found the left engine failed as the plane climbed, and it ruled that the aircraft had been inadequately maintained. Four of the people on the plane were seriously injured.

Mr. Forest alleges he suffered a brain injury, fractured vertebrae, broken ribs, a broken arm and psychological injuries. His lawsuit against the owner of the aircraft and the Attorney-General of Canada is to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court next week – and Mr. Forest’s lawyer says the case reveals a way in which aircraft operators can potentially bypass federal safety standards.

A former member of the Canadian military, Mr. Forest said in an interview that his life has been forever changed by the crash. He does not remember the plane going down and spent a month in an induced coma.

He said he used to hold a senior position at a firm that specializes in security cameras and surveillance, but he is now working on camera assembly and packaging. “I’m hoping that eventually maybe I’ll get back to another position that’s closer to what I was getting paid,” he said.

The TSB, which released its report in 2009, found the aircraft had been registered in the United States through the Federal Aviation Administration and was operated seasonally in Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Because it was registered in the U.S., the aircraft was issued a foreign air operator certificate by Transport Canada.

Joe Fiorante, one of the lawyers representing Mr. Forest, said operating under NAFTA should not mean aircraft in Canada can be held to a lower safety standard.

In its report, the TSB found that the regulatory oversight in place was inadequate because an inspection carried out by the FAA did not identify any of the issues that led to the crash. One of the TSB’s findings was that there could be a risk to passengers if Transport Canada did not verify that holders of foreign air operator certificates met airworthiness and operational requirements.

“That was not the intent of NAFTA. It was to harmonize safety standards, but it wasn’t a race to the bottom,” Mr. Fiorante said in an interview. “... It wasn’t intended to allow Canadians to bypass our own system of aviation regulation.”

The allegations in the case have not been proven.

Mr. Forest’s notice of civil claim says Transport Canada inspected another aircraft owned by the same skydiving company in 2000 and suspended that aircraft’s operating certificate because of safety concerns. The lawsuit says that plane’s engines were well beyond the number of hours they can fly before they must be overhauled. The notice of civil claim alleges the company then turned to the United States and began receiving certificates of authorization from the FAA in 2001.

In a statement, Transport Canada wrote that it is limited in what it can say about the matter since it is before the courts. It noted the TSB report says Transport Canada has taken some action on foreign air operator certificates, including better notification about such operations for regional departments.

Transport Canada said there are currently 33 U.S. air operators with approved foreign air operator certificates “for the conduct of specialty air services in Canada. As seasonal parachuting operations have not yet started in Canada, it is difficult to predict how many applications are likely to be received for 2016,” it said.

The statement of defence filed by the Attorney-General of Canada says NAFTA “allows services to be provided by one free-trade agreement partner to clients in the territory of another.” A NAFTA implementation team reviewed the maintenance and inspection requirements in the U.S. and Canada, it says, and determined “with few exceptions” that the requirements “resulted in an equivalent level of safety.”

The skydiving flight was operated by Pacific Skydivers Ltd. The company was owned by Flanagan Enterprises Inc., which is a defendant in the lawsuit. The owner of Flanagan Enterprises could not be reached for comment.

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