First Air investigating off-course Nunavut flight
"We hope to have some more clarity"
First Air has launched an investigation to determine why one of its Nunavut flights flew many miles off course last month.
On March 31, a Boeing 737-200, with 23 people on board, departed Rankin Inlet en route to Iqaluit.
The aircraft appeared to have proceeded on course until about three-quarters of the way to Iqaluit, when communications with air traffic control switched from Edmonton to Montreal.
During the hand-over, air traffic controllers in Montreal could not make out the flight’s communications, said the Transportation Safety Board, which is assisting First Air with the investigation.
It wasn’t until the flight crew received a message from another nearby aircraft that pilots realized the plane had deviated well to the north of its intended flight plan.
“We not sure of the exact [distance],” said the TSB’s Peter Hildebrand. “[But] we believe they were substantially off course.”
The Aviation Herald reported that the plane was 225 nautical miles northwest of Iqaluit when the crew determined the flight was off course.
Pilots re-set the aircraft’s autopilot flight director and GPS instruments and turned south to Iqaluit, where the plane landed without incident.
In an April 8 release, First Air said they have determined there was not any threat to the safety of passengers and crew on board the March 31 flight.
“The safety of our passengers and crew is paramount at First Air and we are taking this incident very seriously,” said the release.
“We immediately launched an investigation after learning that the flight from Rankin Inlet to Iqaluit deviated from the intended flight plan.
“We have also suspended the pilots with pay until our investigation is complete.”
As part of the investigation, First Air has reviewed the flight data, the navigational aids on the aircraft and is conducting interviews with the pilots and cabin crew who were on board.
The TSB said there is no indication that the problem stems from transmission or radar coming from Montreal’s air traffic control.
“It’s not a situation you’d hope to see,” Hildebrand said. “So is this an ongoing problem or a one-time issue? We hope to have some more clarity.”