Call for Aviation Safety Reform

Nearly two years ago, on June 8, 2017, Alex Simons, who was 21 years old at the time, along with his girlfriend, Sydney Robillard, rented a single-engine Piper Warrior from the flight school he attended in Lethbridge and headed for Kamloops, B.C., where they would visit family and friends.

Alex, being a certified pilot, flew the light aircraft with his girlfriend as the sole passenger. After refuelling in Cranbrook, they departed for their final destination but never arrived.

There was a major 12-day military search conducted over a vast area. During this period of time, 18 Royal Canadian Air Force and Civil Search and Rescue aircraft flew a total of 576 hours and covered approximately 37,513 square kilometres. On average, about 10 aircraft were deployed each day with more than 70 Royal Canadian Air Force personnel and 137 volunteer pilots and spotters from Civil Search and Rescue.

Despite this extensive search-and-rescue mission, they were unable to find Alex and Sydney and their aircraft.

During the early stages of the search, Matthew Simons, father of Alex, and his partner, Natalie Lindgren, were notified that the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) on board the aircraft failed to activate, thus making the task of locating the plane nearly impossible.

When a plane goes down, the ELT on board is supposed to send a distress signal that allows the aircraft to be found. Sadly, ELTs fail to go off in 38 per cent of crashes.

In September 2017, I had the honour of hearing Matthew and Natalie’s story for the first time. As we sat together in my office, they shared openly about how difficult it was to be without closure. At that point, three months had passed since they lost Alex and the search had ended.

To this day, nearly two years since the crash, the location of Alex and Sydney’s plane remains a mystery.

The parents and loved ones are still without closure. Anxious thoughts and disturbing dreams still rob them of their ability to peacefully move on.

During our first meeting together, Matthew and Natalie had done their own research on GPS tracking systems and the ELTs and posed a very important question: What can we do so pilots and passengers will be better protected and other families will not have to suffer this same unimaginable loss?

Together, we decided to further investigate. During the course of our research, we learned the policies governing light aircraft are significantly outdated.

Since June 2016, the Transportation Safety Board has put forward seven recommendations with regard to modernizing ELTs, but to date, these recommendations have not been acted upon.

In many aircraft accidents, the ELT, if there is one, fails to activate for a variety of reasons. For example, it will fail to send a signal if the antenna is broken or damaged; if the impact is too great; if the plane lands inverted; if it is submerged in water; or if the unit is ejected from the plane. As a result, the ELT is all-too-often ineffective and unable to send a distress signal. Consequently, a number of light aircraft are never found. This was the case for Alex and Sydney and, regrettably, is the case for a number of others like them.

The chair of Transportation Safety Board, Kathy Fox, has pointed out that when an aircraft crashes, it needs to be located quickly so that, when possible, survivors can be rescued. The information a simple GPS system could provide, for examples, would empower Search and Rescue to respond quickly when a crash occurs and would reduce lengthy searches for lost aircraft, thus saving lives and tax dollars.

Since our first meeting in September 2017, I have had the privilege of working with Matthew and Natalie to develop a motion calling on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN) to conduct a study on improved methods to ensure the recovery of missing aircraft.

On Feb. 7, an amended version of the motion was passed by all members of the TRAN committee, thus making it a multi-partisan commitment.

Matthew and Natalie shared that it “brought surreal heartache and relief to hear the motion presented in honour of Alex and Sydney. We are extremely grateful for the unanimous vote of the Standing Committee on an amended motion that calls for a detailed study on an issue that has deserved consideration for some time.” > >

They went on to say, “there are no words to describe the devastation this has brought to our families and preventing others from facing this kind of tragedy is our priority. >We chose to use our grief as a means to raise awareness around the dire need for updated regulations; to support technologies that potentially save lives, minimize the suffering of families and reduce the use of finite resources.”

Together, Matthew, Natalie and I are actively seeking your support as we advocate for policies that protect light aircraft pilots and their passengers. In honour of Alex and Sydney and other families that share this journey of loss, I encourage you to visit and support Matthew and Natalie’s vision for aviation safety reform.