Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for May 7, 2013

Air safety issue touches down in legislature

According to the official Opposition, the runway at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport needs significant safety improvements.

According to the official Opposition, the runway at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport needs significant safety improvements.

But concerns raised Monday during question period by the NDP’s Highways and Public Works critic, Lois Moorcroft, left Al Nixon, the department’s assistant deputy minister of transportation, wondering where she got her information.

In the house, Moorcroft asked the Highways minister about what she called poor runway conditions at the airport, particularly during the winter months.

“It is imperative for safe landings and takeoffs that the runway of the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport is as close to bare and dry as possible year-round,” said Moorcroft.

She went on to explain that a runway’s condition is determined through the Canadian Runway Friction Index, or RFI.

“This calculation tells the pilot the recommended landing distance and how quickly they can stop the plane in current runway conditions. The lowest bare and dry conditions have an RFI of 0.5,” she continued.

“The lower the number, the worse the conditions are on the runway. The RFI at our airport is routinely below 0.4 during our long winters.

“In fact, according to airport records, flights were landing and taking off on April 25 when the RFI was 0.27. This poses a substantial risk.

“Can the Minister of Highways and Public Works tell this house what he knows about these runway safety concerns?”

Without addressing Moorcroft’s specific question, Public Works Minister Wade Istchenko responded:

“Our staff at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport work hard to meet the high safety standards set by Transport Canada, and this government invests in improving airport facilities for everyone.”

But today, Nixon countered Moorcroft’s assertion that the runway is routinely unsafe for landing.

“Miss Moorcroft was misinformed, unfortunately,” he began.

“There is no safety risk at the Whitehorse airport; it’s a very safe operation.”

The RFI is, as required, reported to Nav Canada and from there distributed to airline carriers. It is airline crews’ decision whether they want to use the runway under its current conditions, he said.

Nixon explained that they aim to maintain an RFI of at least 0.4 at all times, but there are times during storm events when the RFI falls below that.

On April 25, there was wet and freezing snow, Nixon said.

“What failed to get mentioned was our crews worked like demons, and within a few hours of sweeping, plowing and keeping up with this freezing snow on the runway, we reported an RFI of 0.48.

“There were no flight delays, there were no cancellations, and the runway was perfectly safe,” he said.

Moving on to a second safety concern, Moorcroft noted that the full length of the runway, although extended in the late 1990s, is not being used.

“The runway, despite being lengthened, does not provide a recommended braking distance for aircraft because the Yukon government has not moved the glide path indicator as required by Transport Canada,” she noted.

The glide path indicator guides descending planes to a specific landing spot.

“There are dozens of runway overruns in Canada each year,” said Moorcroft.

“The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has reported that, quote: ‘Runway overruns continue to pose one of the greatest risks to travelling Canadians.’ These accidents are often linked to poor runway friction index and inadequate runway length.

“These are serious safety problems that need addressing now,” said Moorcroft.

Premier Darrell Pasloski rose in response to Moorcroft’s final supplementary question on the topic.

“I’m not quite sure where the member opposite is going with this. Is she really implying that in fact the staff there are breaking the law, or just being negligent in their responsibilities for what they do every day?” the premier asked in response.

“I’m not sure if the member opposite wants the members of the government to be sitting up in the tower there and deciding what, in fact, happens, because we’re politicians; we’re not the technicians.”

Once again, Nixon was able to step in to clarify the situation.

The Glide Path Indicator belongs to Nav Canada, he noted, and while it’s true it wasn’t moved when the runway was extended, they’re hoping it will be later this year when upgrades are made to the system.

But, at this point, it hasn’t affected any of the planes making use of the runway.

The runway was extended for Boeing 747s for airlines like Condor, which flies in the summer to and from Germany, Nixon explained.

Currently, those aircraft only fly during the day, and the Glide Path Indicator is only needed at night, he continued.

The runway was lengthened in case they wanted flights to come in when it’s dark.

“For 737s, the glide path is the same as it always has been, so nothing’s changed there,” said Nixon.

The assistant deputy minister also noted that officials haven’t received any complaints about safety from carriers concerning the runway.

As well, Nav Canada has given no indication there have been significant issues raised with officials there this winter.

CommentsAdd a comment

Stan Rogers

May 7, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I think the legislature should not deal with airport issues or the outrage against the Yukon Men program.

Please let government departments deal with trivial matters and focus on the Peel and more important issues.

Chris Klassen

May 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Well written and informative piece. 

Dont know Jack

May 7, 2013 at 8:13 pm

What utter nonsense. Had this fool taken 15 minutes to research what she was talking about, she would not have stood up and made such asinine comments. I wonder if she will retract her comments when she proved wrong, probably not.  Makes me wonder what axe she has to grind.

jack

May 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Its a complete outrage that YTG cannot control the weather.  I mean, I’ve heard stories that falling snow has been allowed to actually land on the runway before it is cleared.  Why isn’t YTG doing something to prevent the snow from falling in the first place?

Wayne

May 8, 2013 at 7:19 am

The glide slope, and localizer, are used during the day if weather conditions are such that visual approaches are not possible.

Loves Yukon

May 9, 2013 at 7:22 am

How about spending a bit of money, and upgrading the washrooms that are almost 30 years old (and often broken), and replacing some equipment in the kitchen (that is taped together with duct tape) and in plain site of visitors. How embarassing.

Pilot

May 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

Keep in mind that Aviation is regulated under the Federal Government, and the Territorial government has no jurisdiction here. As well, the airport crew does a great job in maintaining the runways in summer and winter.

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