The costs of fitting small planes with cockpit voice and data recorders that can withstand the type of crash that killed former Alberta premier Jim Prentice is no longer prohibitive, and the federal Transport Minister says he is considering making them mandatory.
The Transportation Safety Board has said the absence of such devices, commonly referred to as black boxes, on the Cessna Citation jet carrying Mr. Prentice and three other people when it crashed near Kelowna, B.C., last Thursday will make the cause difficult or even impossible to pinpoint. On Monday, the board cited the crash as it renewed its calls for the federal government to require voice and data recorders on small aircraft.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he has instructed his staff to look into the potential changes to aircraft regulations, explaining that when the board first made its recommendation 25 years ago, the technology was too expensive.
"When they first made the suggestion or the recommendation, these were extremely expensive devices … in some cases, potentially quite a bit more expensive than the airplane itself," Mr. Garneau told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.
"Now the situation with technology has changed. We will look at what's available on the market, whether it's sturdy enough to withstand a possible impact and we'll reconsider the whole issue."
Currently, only medium and large commercial planes are required to be equipped with recorders.
Mr. Garneau couldn't say when his government may be prepared to change the regulations that govern when such devices are required, though he said his staff will be looking at the issue "over the next few months."
The Cessna crashed Thursday night shortly after taking off in Kelowna, en route to a small airport in Springbank, located just west of Calgary.
Also killed were Ken Gellatly, the father-in-law of one of Mr. Prentice's daughters; Calgary businessman Sheldon Reid and former RCMP officer Jim Kruk, who was piloting the aircraft.
The investigation, which is expected to take at least a year, will be especially challenging because of the lack of data from the aircraft itself.
"It's going to be very difficult," said Bill Yearwood, a spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board.
The board first asked the federal government to expand flight recorder requirements in 1991, after a Beechcraft King Air A-100 crashed in Ontario, killing four people. After its investigation, the agency said it couldn't determine exactly why the aircraft slammed into the ground – a mystery that could have been solved had the aircraft been equipped with a cockpit-voice recorder or flight-data recorder.
The TSB made the same recommendation in 2013, after a crash in Yukon that killed one person who was on a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter. In that case, the TSB recommended the federal government "work with industry to remove obstacles to and develop recommended practices for the implementation of flight-data monitoring and the installation of lightweight flight recording systems by commercial operators not currently required to carry these systems."
With a report from The Canadian Press