When Tim Hortons co-founder Ron Joyce took up flying, he could afford to do it in style. He put together a fleet of corporate jets and built his own private airport in Nova Scotia, with an oceanfront golf course wrapped around it. But, according to a damning new report, the coffee and doughnut entrepreneur's wealth didn't buy him the most important thing of all - safety.
"There was a clear failure in terms of risk management," said Yves Jolicoeur, a Transportation Safety Board investigator who spent nearly two years probing a 2007 crash that destroyed a new jet and seriously injured five people, including Mr. Joyce. "The accident was the result of a sequence of failures."
Among those failures, according to Mr. Jolicoeur and co-investigator Kathy Fox, was a flawed oversight system that allows business jet operators to use procedures that no airline could get away with.
Mr. Joyce's private flight operation had been warned, for example, that the landing approach system installed at Fox Harbour was unsuitable for high-performance jets, but it wasn't changed. Transport Canada also warned that a road at the end of the runway was a significant hazard, but, again, nothing was done.
The TSB investigators detailed operational and organizational faults that climaxed with the Fox Harbour crash on the afternoon of Nov. 11, 2007, when Mr. Joyce's new Bombardier Global 5000 jet hit the ground short of the runway, ripping off the landing gear and sending the airplane careering across a field. The plane was one of eight operated by Jetport, a Hamilton-based company owned by Mr. Joyce.
The investigators concluded that Jetport operated in a different regulatory environment from scheduled airlines, and got away with procedures that went against manufacturer's recommendations. Among them was a seat-of-the-pants landing manoeuvre known as a sideslip, which the pilots used to counteract the strong crosswind on the day of the 2007 crash, lowering the right wing to slide the jet sideways through the air. Although sideslips are commonly used in sport planes and gliders, Bombardier recommends against them in the Global 5000 because they can destabilize the plane.
The pilots also made a habit of what's known as "ducking under" as they approached Fox Harbour, flying below the recommended angle so they could land on the near end of the runway. In May of 2000, another jet operated by Mr. Joyce's company had a near miss that highlighted the risks of the shallow approach - an Astra SPX jet clipped treetops, but managed to abort the landing and put down safely in nearby Charlottetown.
The TSB investigators devoted a large part of their report to a criticism of the way business aviation is regulated in Canada.
Although major airlines must pass regular inspections by Transport Canada officials, Mr. Joyce's operation used independent auditors approved by the Canadian Business Aircraft Association (CBAA). These auditors failed to detect several safety issues, the TSB investigators concluded. They noted that the pilots in the 2007 crash were flying the Global 5000 jet using techniques based on the Bombardier 604, a much smaller aircraft - a fact that led them to misjudge the Global 5000's altitude.
The TSB's Ms. Fox said the investigation led to a series of recommendations to federal aviation officials, including a review of the way the CBAA oversees business aviation.
"The central lesson of this accident was a failure to properly manage risk," she said. "Safety is about finding trouble before trouble finds you."
How the landing went wrong
Ron Joyce's new Bombardier Global 5000 crashed in November, 2007, hitting the ground short of the runway at Fox Harbour Airport.
Pilots use a shallower-than-recommended approach, hoping to land on the first part of the runway. They also use a manoeuver called a 'sideslip,' which Bombardier recommends against
In the critical phase of the landing known as the flare, pilots use visual cues to judge their height above the ground. Pilots of Ron Joyce's new Bombardier Global 5000 jet used procedures based on the much smaller Bombardier Challenger 604. Because the cockpit of the new jet was higher off the ground, they misjudged the height of their wheels.
Plane lands two metres short of runway, smashing into a steep slope and ripping off its landing gear
Ninian Carter /The Globe and Mail