Honourable senators, I like to talk about things that begin with “S”, such as the Special Olympics and SOS Children’s Villages. My subject matter today starts with “S” — it is about safety.

Keeping with the theme of flying high, honourable senators, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill S-33, to amend the Aeronautics Act, which establishes the responsibility of the Minister of Transport for the development and regulation of civil aeronautics and the responsibility of the Minister of National Defence for military aeronautical activities. These amendments will modernize legislation and provide Transport Canada with tools to maintain and enhance safety for travellers. Modernization of the Aeronautics Act will provide greater consistency between it and other transport legislation that has recently undergone legislative overhauls.

In 2003, Canada joined the world in celebrating 100 years of powered flight. It is hard to believe that only a century ago no Canadian had ever flown an airplane, not even a senator. Today, Canada has one of the best civil aviation programs in the world, and our aviation products and services are second to none. In a country of such huge distances, it is important to remember the value of air travel to the strength of our nation. It is also important to remember safety.

Honourable senators, today I wish to recall some of the history behind the Aeronautics Act and to speak to specific aspects of the bill before us. The Aeronautics Act has been in place since 1919 and last underwent a major overhaul in the early 1980s. Many of the amendments made at that time were aimed at enhancing the compliance and enforcement provisions of the act, including the establishment of the Civil Aviation Tribunal, which later became the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. The act was further amended in 1992 to authorize the making of interim orders by the Minister of Transport and the making of agreements with provincial land use authorities for airport zoning, and to strengthen the compliance provisions of the act. Other amendments were also made to improve civil aviation security. Please note that it has been nearly 20 years since these improvements were made.

That is why, in 1998, Transport Canada announced plans to review the Aeronautics Act to reflect the current needs of the aviation community and to take into consideration current government directions. The amendments proposed in this bill are the result of extensive consultations that began in 2000 with stakeholders through the Canadian Aviation Regulation Advisory Council. Stakeholders, including all major organizations and associations, have been involved in this consultation and are generally supportive of the amendments.

The changes being considered reflect new strategies to regulate aviation safety, including new safety management provisions, the designation of industry bodies to certify certain segments of the aviation industry, voluntary non-punitive reporting programs, and a number of housekeeping amendments to clarify relationships and ministerial authorities between the Aeronautics Act and other legislation.

Honourable senators, Canada’s air transport system is one of the world’s safest. As the aeronautics community represents a significant component of Canada’s economy, responsibility for air safety is shared among regulatory groups, operators and manufacturers, on the ground or in the air.

Everybody knows their roles, responsibilities and accountabilities to manage safety proactively within the air transport system. To reduce further an already low rate, the amendments proposed establish a number of voluntary and non-punitive safety data-reporting programs. Transport Canada will work with stakeholders to analyze this data and make adjustments to aviation safety requirements. There will be more emphasis on managing safety from an organizational perspective, as suggested by leading experts and international bodies. The proposed amendments require aviation operators to establish integrated management systems, to include such matters as risk-management practices and internal-audit requirements.

Many of the proposed amendments relate to expanded and enhanced regulation-making authorities. The amendments would allow, for example, that regulations limit the hours of work of air traffic controllers. Amendments also allow regulations to require airport operators to carry liability insurance. A new regulatory authority in the act would enable the department to designate industry bodies to certify certain segments of the aviation industry and would set standards for that segment of the industry.

Many of the amendments being recommended relate to compliance and enforcement authorities. Penalty levels, for example, are proposed to be more consistent with those contained in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. In addition, the act clarifies relationships and ministerial authorities between the act and other legislation, such as the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act and the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act.

The proposed legislation will also provide the Canadian Forces Airworthiness Authority with powers and duties to investigate military aviation accidents or incidents that involve citizens. For the Canadian Forces, this is very important. They have not had this. These new powers and duties would be comparable to those exercised by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board investigators who look into civilian accidents.

Over the past number of years, civilians have become increasingly more involved in military air operations, maintenance and training. Under the current legislation, the Canadian Forces simply do not have the necessary powers to conduct flight safety investigations of military aircraft accidents that may involve civilians, civilian organizations or contractors associated with military aviation. I cannot help but emphasize the importance of this part of the amendment.

In essence, these new powers will ensure that the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces have all the necessary authority and power to conduct full and proper investigations into such situations, while also promoting openness, independence and integrity in military flight safety investigations.

Honourable senators, the aviation industry, like all others, is changing, and both the regulator and the regulated have to work together to keep ahead of the changes. The amendments proposed to the Aeronautics Act today are aimed at ensuring that the required tools are in place to maintain and enhance the safety of Canada’s aviation system for the future.