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Government orders planes to install ground warning systems

An Air Canada airplane seen at Toronto Pearson International Airport, September 20, 2011.

Mark Blinch / Reuters/Mark Blinch / Reuters

The federal government is accepting a Transportation Safety Board recommendation intended to reduce small plane crashes 16 years after the board first suggested requiring aircraft to install terrain warning systems.

While many in the aviation industry say the plan is sound and will save lives, one said the move will wipe out the private aviation industry.

On Friday, Transport Canada announced proposed regulations that would force both commercial and private planes with six or more passenger seats to be equipped with a terrain awareness warning system.

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The board's recommendations for the system go back to 1995 after seven people were killed in a crash in Sandy Lake, Ont., two years earlier.

Transport Minister Denis Lebel said the use of the warning systems will significantly reduce the risk of airplane crashes with land, water and obstacles.

"Our government will continue to strengthen aviation safety for Canadians," Mr. Lebel said in a news release.

The warning systems, known as TAWS, provide cautions, warnings and visual alerts to flight crew when the path of the airplane would make it crash to the ground.

But Kevin Psutka, the president of the 18,000-member Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, said many of his members don't fit into the commercial category and will be forced to pay many thousands of dollars for equipment they don't need.

"Private aviation in Canada is over-regulated and there is no good reason why the people that I represent should be affected by this regulation," he said in an interview.

He conceded the government has gone part way to addressing his group's concern by exempting aircraft that carry six passengers or fewer.

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Most of the aircraft his members fly have six seats in total, meaning there would be a maximum of five passengers.

Mr. Psutka said the average cost to outfit a plane with the system could be $30,00 to $40,000.

"Our sector of aviation is not a bunch of rich people with toys. We're average Canadians," he said. "What Transport (Canada) is doing to our sector of aviation is destroying it."

The federal government said operators of larger aircraft already have the systems installed. Mr. Lebel's department estimates the change would save about $215-million over 10 years in preventing deaths, serious injuries and damage.

"[Controlled flight into terrain]is the leading cause of fatalities in airline accidents worldwide, since the collision with terrain usually results in total destruction of the aircraft," said the federal government's advisory circular that went out to industry stakeholders earlier this year.

John McKenna of the Air Transport Association, the voice of commercial aviation in Canada, said the regulations are long overdue and the equipment saves lives.

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"We think it's a good piece of equipment and we are largely in agreement with this," he said.

Merlin Preuss, vice-president of government regulatory affairs with the Business Aviation Association, is not yet sure how it will affect his members.

"It came right out of the blue... . We weren't ready for it at all."

Those in the industry have a 75-day consultation period to comment on the changes before they're finalized.

Mr. Psutka said his organization will raise its concerns during the consultation period, but he's not hopeful for change.

He said many of his members' planes are already equipped with a type of TAWS, but that will not satisfy the federal government regulations.

"It is unfair to broad brush, lump everybody into the same package and say everybody that's in this category has to have one," he said.

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