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Passengers arrive at Pearson Airport in Mississauga, Ont., on March 14, 2023.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

A United Nations aviation agency has issued a draft report that is highly critical of Ottawa’s oversight of the safety of the Canada’s civil aviation system.

The audit, conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), found multiple lapses in Transport Canada’s supervision of the country’s airlines, commercial pilots, air traffic control and licensing regimes.

Montreal-based ICAO gave Canada a score of 64 out of 100, down from 95 in its last audit, which was conducted in 2005. A team of 12 ICAO employees performed the audit over the first two weeks of June. The work included analyses of responses to questionnaires, and on-site inspections at government facilities, airline and service provider operations.

In 2007, the United States’ score was 90 per cent.

John Gradek, who teaches aviation leadership at McGill University, described the audit as “scathing” and noted Canada’s score ranks it with countries in the developing world.

He said ICAO is a credible agency that is very thorough. However, he said it was not clear from the draft report if its investigators had access to the right people or information.

He noted Canada has not had a major aviation disaster in many years, but the lax oversight highlighted by ICAO could indicate “our luck is running out.” He blamed the government’s shift over several years to allow the aviation companies it regulates to self-regulate and self-report problems. This has allowed the government to cut costs on inspectors and regulators and download the responsibility to the private companies.

“This audit is about safety,” Mr. Gradek said. “ICAO is saying, ‘the regulations aren’t all clear and you’re not doing a good job of surveillance and enforcement.’ ”

Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez Rodriguez, said Transport Canada takes the report seriously and is working on the issues it highlighted. “Safety is always the highest priority,” said Ms. Scaffidi, who did not have access to the report and was unable to provide detailed responses.

Among ICAO’s findings it deemed “not satisfactory”:

-Transport Canada allows holders of foreign private pilot licences to convert them to Canadian permits without verifying the licence with the foreign authority.

-Transport Canada has no formal way of ensuring air traffic controller Nav Canada continuously assesses its shortage of staff and its capacity to handle aircraft;

-Pilots and mechanics can obtain medical clearance from foreign doctors, who are not subject to Canadian assessments.

-Transport Canada does not properly monitor aviation companies’ fatigue management systems, which are safety rules that dictate pilots’ required rest periods.

-Unsatisfactory monitoring of rules on the transport of dangerous goods.

A draft copy of the report and several documents containing hundreds of questions and scores were obtained by The Globe and Mail.

ICAO judged the country’s safety regime on hundreds of criteria within eight areas. Canada scored below the global average in six of the eight categories.

Canada scored 23 per cent on aircraft operations; 67 per cent in personnel training and licensing; and 67 per cent in air navigation services. Aircraft incident investigation, the responsibility of Transportation Safety Board, scored the highest at 83 per cent.

William Raillant-Clark, an ICAO spokesman, said countries that score below the agency’s target of 75 per cent are expected to improve their results by 2024. “The object is not to assign a failing or passing grade, and a low score on a given aspect of the auditing program does not imply that a safety risk exists,” he said.

ICAO says a “significant safety concern” flagged in its audits does not signal a country’s airlines, airports or air traffic controllers are unsafe. Rather, this “indicates that the state is not proving sufficient safety oversight to ensure the effective implementation of applicable ICAO standards.”

The federal government has provided responses to ICAO that will be included in the final report. The timing of the release of the final report is unclear and determined by Ottawa.

The third parties visited by ICAO auditors include Air Canada, Air Transat, CAE Inc. and Nav Canada. ICAO said the purpose of the third-party inspections was to validate the ability of the government to supervise the various operations of the third parties, including maintenance, training and equipment manufacturing.

Spokespeople for Air Canada and WestJet airlines separately said the airlines adhere to the highest safety standards of ICAO and other global groups. “It is important to note this is a draft of a report on an audit of Transport Canada’s implementation of ICAO’s standards and not on the safe operation of Canadian aircraft,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said.

Jeff Morrison, head of lobby group National Airlines Council of Canada, said he has not seen the results of the audit. “NACC member airlines stand ready to support the government to ensure our aviation ecosystem remains one of the safest and most reliable in the world,” he said.

Transport Canada spokesman Hicham Ayoun said Canada will co-operate with ICAO to meet its standards. “ICAO has not identified any significant safety concerns with Canada’s civil aviation system that require immediate action,” he said, pointing to the declining number of aviation occurrences since 2012.

“As a regulator, Transport Canada regularly conducts thorough inspections and oversight activities to ensure air operators who play a role in the safety of Canada’s aviation system are in compliance with the requirements and if it is determined that there has been non-compliance, the department never hesitates to take appropriate actions,” Mr. Ayoun said in an email.

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