Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic May 17, 2017 - 8:29 am

Auditor General slams Transport Canada for neglecting Arctic airports

Poor remote airport infrastructure hampers medevacs, delivery of fresh foods and medicines

Here's a photo of the runway in Pangnirtung. It's too short to handle newer, more powerful aircraft and it's located in the middle of the community. But Pang is only one of many remote communities whose runways suffer from big infrastructure deficits and Transport Canada is failing to lead the way towards solutions, the Auditor General of Canada said May 16. (FILE PHOTO)
Here's a photo of the runway in Pangnirtung. It's too short to handle newer, more powerful aircraft and it's located in the middle of the community. But Pang is only one of many remote communities whose runways suffer from big infrastructure deficits and Transport Canada is failing to lead the way towards solutions, the Auditor General of Canada said May 16. (FILE PHOTO)

Though remote northern airports are essential for supplying northern communities with fresh food, health care and emergency medical evacuations, Transport Canada is failing to lead efforts to keep them safe and efficient, the Auditor General of Canada, Michael Ferguson, said in a report.

The report is one of seven audits of federal departments and agencies the auditor general tabled May 17 in the House of Commons.

In report number six, the auditor general’s office looked at how Transport Canada has responded to the needs of 117 remote northern airports in Canada.

What the auditor general’s staff discovered isn’t flattering.

“We found that while Transport Canada knew about the infrastructure needs of remote northern airports, it did not lead coordinated efforts to address the unique challenges these airports faced,” the report said.

For the purposes of the audit, Ferguson chose airports in communities where air travel is the only reliable year-round form of transportation, a definition that excludes northern communities on the road system, like Whitehorse and Yellowknife, but which includes Iqaluit.

That includes 25 airports in Nunavut, 17 in Quebec, 17 in the Northwest Territories, 26 in Ontario and one in Yukon.

And after interviewing airline representatives and other stakeholders, as well as studying numerous documents, the auditor general’s office concluded that Transport Canada knows plenty about the needs of northern Canada’s airports.

But despite that, the department has failed to lead efforts aimed at ensuring remote airport infrastructure is maintained and improved.

For example, Transport Canada’s Airports Capital Assistance Program spends only $38 million a year to help the managers of remote airports maintain their facilities.

But that pot of money has not increased in size since the year 2000, and it’s not nearly enough to help northern airports maintain safe lighting, safe runways and weather reporting capabilities.

Nunavut alone needs $463 million, in 2014 dollars, to meet the infrastructure needs of its airports, including $76 million to relocate two airports so they can meet Transport Canada safety regulations, the report said.

They also took note of a big problem in Pangnirtung, where one of Nunavut’s air carriers told them the runway is too short and limits the type of aircraft that can land there.

“This air carrier informed us that it would be modernizing its fleet, and its newer, more powerful and efficient aircraft would not be able to land in Pangnirtung because the aircraft requires a longer runway,” the report said.

Overall, many of the 117 airports the auditor general’s office looked at do not provide enough visual aids to help pilots land safely.

The findings include:

• 44 per cent of remote airports do not have approach lighting systems to guide pilots;

• 26 per cent do not have lighting to help pilots identify the runway; and

• 21 per cent do not have precision path indicators, which help pilots figure out if they’re flying too high or too low when landing.

“Improvements to lighting could enhance airport accessibility and efficiency by helping pilots to better see the runway and land, which could result in fewer cancelled or missed approaches at some airports, especially during periods of reduced visibility,” the report said.

And because of northern Canada’s weather and long, dark winters, those periods of reduced visibility are frequent.

But at the same time, northern air carriers often face difficulties getting reliable local weather information, which compounds the problem created by poor runway lighting.

One airport in Nunavut could not report on local weather conditions for all or part of 96 days of one year.

In the territories, 42 airports were unable to report on local weather conditions in 2015 for an average of 25 days.

And one medevac operator that operates in Nunavut and the NWT said it had to cancel about 360 of 1,250 medical evacuations per year because of poor weather reporting.

Another problem is that only seven of the 117 runways which the auditor general studied are paved, while 94 use gravel runways and others use crushed rock, the report said.

“Stakeholders told us that newer aircraft do not come equipped with gravel kits, which can be costly for air carriers to install,” the report said.

At the same time, aircraft landing on gravel runways must carry 15 per cent less weight, in cargo and passengers, and that aircraft parts must be replaced and repaired more often when they operate on gravel.

On the other hand, paved runways cost a lot of money to install and maintain, and some remote communities may not have the skills and equipment required to look after them, the report said.

Another issue that stakeholders are worried about is whether remote airports will get the mobile equipment they need, such as snow-blowers, to keep their runways open in bad weather.

Yet another worry is the future impact of climate change on remote airport infrastructure.

“If the infrastructure is not maintained, it becomes more costly to repair and upgrade. Not addressing infrastructure needs at remote northern airports, which support the only reliable year-round mode of transportation for remote northern communities, also affects the timely delivery of essential goods and public services, such as medical emergency evacuations,” the report said.

To fix these problems, the auditor general’s office recommends that Transport Canada should take the lead in working with stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy for northern airport infrastructure.

The auditor general’s office also recommend that Transport Canada should work with stakeholders to figure out where the money will come from to meet the infrastructure needs of remote northern airports.

Transport Canada says it agrees with those recommendations, but has so far announced no concrete or specific measures to implement them.

This map shows the 117 remote airports that the office of the Auditor General of Canada studied for the report that it tabled in the House of Commons May 16.
This map shows the 117 remote airports that the office of the Auditor General of Canada studied for the report that it tabled in the House of Commons May 16.
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(14) Comments:

#1. Posted by All on May 17, 2017

Thank you, AG. You can see how neglected the
Canadian North is in all areas!

#2. Posted by uvanga on May 17, 2017

Thank you AG for bring the real needs into the public eye.  Now wait for action to happen to service the needs, needs that are real and essential for us to make ends meet.

#3. Posted by Northern Inuit on May 17, 2017

we have known for years about the poor conditions of the Airports.  All but two Airports in Nunavut have gravel runways and the Boeing 737’s that have gravel kits are going the way of the Dodo Bird and will be gone soon.  Sure the new ATR’s are sweet and fast, but they can not hold what a 737 can hold. 

We need serious funds from the Feds to upgrade our Airport Infrastructure.  We have ancient Airport Terminal Buildings in numerous Airports, you get two Aircraft on the Ground and it’s standing room arm to arm in some of them.  The Aerodrome Lighting is just as bad.

The Community Aerodrome Radio Stations have some good People who try, but when you have NavCanada give the entire North to ATS who underbid everyone else so low they have the balls to tell O/C’s, “by the way we have to cut your salary by up to $10 per hour, do you want to work for us?” no wonder they find work elsewhere.  Then ATS finds former O/C’s who were let go by previous Contractors to work.

#4. Posted by Northern Inuit on May 17, 2017

Welcome to the North, which can of worms do you want to open first?

it would be funny if it wasn’t so scary…

#5. Posted by Airoplan on May 17, 2017

Careful what you wish for. Better airports means much higher cost and higher cost means higher fares. I would much rather see a cheaper fare and use the current airports, nothing wrong there IMHO

#6. Posted by Getting Real on May 17, 2017

In reality half those little towns should be closed. They are economically unsustainable and socially they are like tiny prisons.

#7. Posted by jimmyy on May 17, 2017

#6 stay in Iqaluit and live off the government

#8. Posted by pissed off on May 17, 2017

Thank God for the auditor General of Canada.

Their team should be based full time in the North to show the real truth about the North instead of the BS that our local idiots want to disseminate.

Thank you.

#9. Posted by Arctic Airports on May 17, 2017

I used to be a CARS operator and the money was good!
If present day CARS operators choose to work for small
pay, then it is their own fault.
Contact the Workers union for advice!
Try talking with MLA,S and other leaders if you wish but it won’t do
you any good.
Take care and do what is necessary.

#10. Posted by Nunavvimiuq on May 17, 2017

Lets make mutually convenient routes between Western Nunavut and Eastern Nunavik/Nunavut and High Arctic to Nunavik corridor with same day connections to major Southern hubs and vice versa, making travelling to high Arctic from Nunavik, a same day arrival proposition. If not, at least a lot more affordatable proposition. This can be done by utilizing both Air Inuit and First Air with their already eastablished routes and money making cargo services converging inagreed upon hubs. As it is now, we might as well be in different countries if we want to travel to Western Nunavut, High Arctic, and Eastern Nunavik/Nunavut region. Not for lack of possibilities. It does happen. But in very inconvenient circumstance. Simply for lack of routes between these regions. But there is a need which can be med by sharing the established routes’s money making ventuires along these routes.

#11. Posted by Inuk on May 18, 2017

I have tried asking a Hamlet committee member in Arviat if Arviat can have a longer airstrip where a jet can land when it cannot land to Rankin Inlet but he just said it is too expensive even to ask.

#12. Posted by Reason why did nothing on May 18, 2017

Everyone one knew how sad Nunavut airstrips were.

Especially Nunavut Government when they were told over and over by northern airlines. How can Nunavut Gov. plan to spend tens of millions dollars every year over the next 30 years, while letting other Nunavut airports remain unsafe and crappy.

Did you hear NU Gov go banging on Transport Canada’s door to bring Nunavut airports up to safe standards?

Did you hear NU Gov pounding it into the Feds heads, to do nothing is not action?

Mad Mom in another post suggest we get rid of today’s MLA’s. That’s what we did, got rid of the MLA’s who pushed for Iqaluit’s almost $500,000 airport and still got the same voiceless people.

Mayors go to regional round-tables and that’s about all you hear. They don’t even get on the backs of Regional Chambers of Commerce for action. Do Chambers of Commerce even exist?

Thus, no surprise why Transport Canada enjoyed a do nothing attitude.

#13. Posted by Really? on May 18, 2017

#11 It is too expensive and totally senseless

#14. Posted by Kangiqsualujjuamiut? on May 18, 2017

It’s missing Kangiqsualujjuaq, Quebec’s airport on that map!

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