Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau is seeking assurances from passenger airlines that they have up-to-date measures to confirm pilots’ fitness to fly and are rigorously enforcing them.
Garneau’s move follows an incident last weekend in which a Sunwing Airlines pilot was accused of being so drunk that he passed out in the cockpit shortly before scheduled takeoff from Calgary.
Miroslav Gronych has been charged with one count of having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and one count of having control of a plane while his blood alcohol level was above .08.
Gronych, a Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, is to appear in court Thursday – the same day Garneau is expected to send a letter to all passenger airline companies operating in Canada.
A spokesman for Garneau, Marc Roy, says the letter will ask the airlines to provide confirmation that their protocols and safety management systems are up to date and are being enforced “with all required resources, including measures designed to confirm pilots’ fitness to fly.”
Roy says the objective is to “ensure the highest safety standards.”
According to Transport Canada, Canada’s largest passenger airlines have safety management systems in place, intended to help them identify safety risks before they become bigger problems to ensure that safety is part of their everyday culture. That includes having proper procedures in place to ensure pilots are competent and fit to fly.
The department has said it is reviewing Sunwing’s protocols to ensure the airline’s handling of the Gronych incident complied with its safety management system and Canadian regulations. It has also said it “will not hesitate” to take enforcement action if necessary, including issuing fines and revoking licenses if appropriate.
Under the Canadian Aviation Regulations, members of a flight crew are prohibited from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence of alcohol. It is up to each airline to ensure those regulations are followed.
Sunwing has said it has a “zero tolerance” policy on crew members consuming alcohol within 12 hours of going on duty. The company says it also trains all employees to look for and report any unusual behaviour.
Police have said that last Saturday the crew of one of Sunwing’s Boeing 737 passenger jets noticed the pilot acting oddly before finding him allegedly passed out in the cockpit shortly before departure from Calgary. The plane, with 99 passengers and crew on board, was to make stops in Regina and Winnipeg before continuing on to Cancun, Mexico.
The pilot was escorted off the plane. Police subsequently alleged that Gronych’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
Gronych has been released on $1,000 bail and ordered to surrender his passport. He has also been banned from flying a plane in Canada while on bail. None of the allegations against him have been proven in court.
Sunwing has said it employs about 350 Canadian pilots but contracts up to 60 foreign pilots during peak holiday seasons.
To fly in Canada, foreign pilots must either obtain a Canadian licence or obtain Canadian validation of their foreign licence.