Canada has the highest volume of seaplane operations in the
world. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada ("TSB")
estimates that in the Vancouver Harbour alone, about 300,000
passengers travel on about 33,000 seaplane flights each year (see
link). The Canadian Aviation Regulations
("CARs") currently require that a personal floatation
device ("PFD") for each passenger be carried onboard the
aircraft. However, occupants are not required to wear the PFD
during the flight. Additionally, commercial seaplane pilots are not
required to have underwater egress training, which teaches
potentially life-saving strategies for exiting a submerged
In November 2009, the pilot of a commercial seaplane initiated a
left hand turn shortly after take-off from Saturna Island, British
Columbia. During the turn, given the prevailing atmospheric
conditions and bank angle, an aerodynamic stall resulted in the
left wing dropping and nose pitching down. The aircraft descended
rapidly and collided with the water, causing the floats to
Following the accident, the TSB investigated the loss and made
two safety recommendations. First, the TSB recommended that the
Department of Transport require all new and existing commercial
seaplanes be fitted with regular and emergency exits that allow
rapid egress following a survivable collision with water. Second,
the TSB recommended that the Department of Transport require that
all occupants of commercial seaplanes wear a PFD prior to boarding
and during operations on or above water.
On May 21, 2016, Transport Canada published proposed changes to
the CARs in response to the TSB recommendations. The proposed
changes incorporate the PFD requirement, and state that the PFD may
be "worn" in a pouch that is attached to the person's
waist. However, the recommendation regarding modification of
aircraft exits was not included, because a stakeholder focus group
found that such measures were not "presently viable."
The proposed changes also include a new pilot training
requirement. Commercial seaplane pilots are to undergo specific
training (and recurrent training every three years) to facilitate
underwater egress after an accident occurs, and to further mitigate
the risks associated with exiting a seaplane following an accident
into water. Operators are also subject to additional requirements
depending on the nature of their operation.
Canada is the only country that has proposed the mandatory
wearing of PFDs by seaplane passengers. The changes have raised
valid criticisms in the industry, including concerns about
premature/inadvertent inflation hampering timely escape, equipment
durability and certification, discomfort, increased costs, and
limited access to training for pilots stationed in remote areas.
Time will tell whether these measures will increase the likelihood
of survival following a seaplane accident over water.
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