Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic July 14, 2012 - 11:03 am

Northern air crashes are preventable: NDP critics

“Just remember, every time a plane cannot land, it is costly”

SAMANTHA DAWSON

The federal government must be more accountable for how it approaches aviation safety in the North, Olivia Chow, the New Democratic Party’s transport critic and MP for Trinity-Spadina, told reporters July 13.

She spoke from a news conference in Yellowknife alongside Dennis Bevington, the MP for Western Arctic and the NDP’s northern development critic at a Public Service Alliance of Canada boardroom.

“We mourn the tragic deaths of people, especially in the North, who’ve had a lot of accidents in the past, and some of those accidents are preventable,” she said.

That includes crash last year near Resolute Bay of First Air flight 6560, which killed 12 of 15 people on board, and is still under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board.

To prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future, there are a number of actions the federal government should take, Chow said.

“First thing they should stop cutting Transport Canada and stop laying people off,” Chow said.

Money needs to be put into more pilot and staff training, GPS and area navigation systems in airports, and more runways must be paved in communities, Chow said, referring to northern Canada’s infrastructure needs. 

“Getting fast, efficient and safe airline services is essential,” she said.
The use of GPS in approaches to landing would give pilots more technological guidance, she said.

“What that would do is allow the pilots to come in, in a safe way, rather than just observing and looking, they can then step down, they know where the runway is,” Chow said.

This wouldn’t be terribly expensive to install, she said.

“If my little iPad has a GPS, surely some of the approaches should have the GPS.”

Chow said terrain awareness warning systems took too long to be installed in aircraft.

“Lives were lost because of it,” she said, acknowledging that it is an important system.

“[It] prevents death, we know that, we’ve seen that when the system is in place, the accident rates completely decline,” she said.

There should also be more inspectors on the ground.

“That would really help the situation. We need more inspectors,” she said, adding, “it’s a multitude of investments.”

Still, that kind of spending would be well worth the money, she said.

“Just remember, every time a plane cannot land, it is costly.”

Bevington, the NDP northern development critic, agreed.

Airport runways in Nunavut need more than one access route, or approach, Bevington said.

“The $6 million dollars to invest in Northern airports there’s a lot larger program that’s required here. That’s not going to do what needs to be done for Northern airports,” he said.

The whole system needs to be upgraded across the North, Bevington said.

Bevington said a potential $300 million dollar investment in a new Iqaluit airport might means the rest of Nunavut airports may not see the kind of investment they need.

“The infrastructure has not kept up to where it should be in the North,” he said.

In Alaska, all runways are paved, Bevington said, adding that 28 airports in the NWT and Nunavut don’t have proper runways.

Also, weather is becoming more unpredictable.

Bevington and Chow met with aviation industry representatives before attending the news conference.

There have been an unprecedented number of fatal aircraft accidents in the North over the last 12 months including:

• An Air Tindi Cessna 208 that crashed on a scheduled flight from Yellowknife to Lutselk’e, NWT, killing the pilot and one passenger.

• An Arctic Sunwest Twin Otter crashed in Yellowknife’s Old town, killing two pilots and injuring seven others. 

• A single-engine Cessna crashed near Fort Simpson, NWT, though the pilot survived.

At the end of the day, the federal government needs to “be in touch with the needs of the northerners, listen to the pilots, listen to the airline industry, listen to the needs of the North,” Chow said.

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