British Columbia

5 months and counting: Broken weather station worries seaplane pilot

A seasoned seaplane operator on B.C.'s West Coast is frustrated the federal government has not repaired an automated weather station northwest of Vancouver Island.

'The next maintenance trip is not yet scheduled,' says Environment Canada

Air Cab float plane operator Joel Eilertsen is worried about dangerous flights on the B.C. coast due to the lack of key weather information from a partly broken weather station northwest of Vancouver Island. (Joel Eilertsen/Air Cab)

A seasoned seaplane operator on B.C.'s coast is frustrated the federal government has not repaired an automated weather station located on a small island off Vancouver Island.

Joel Eilertsen, who operates Air Cab and flies loggers, surveyors and other commercial workers up the coast almost every day, says the weather station at Sartine Island is partly broken and has not reported wind direction and velocity for the past five months.

Eilersten says without having that wind direction and velocity information, coastal seaplane pilots could end up flying dangerous trips.

"It's very much a safety problem," says Eilertsen.

Sartine Island is located about 33 kilometres off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island.

Early-warning system for bad weather

Eilertsen, who has been a pilot for 50 years and who typically flies out of the Port Hardy area, says the weather station serves as an early-warning system for coastal pilots and boaters, giving them crucial information about how quickly — and from what direction — incoming weather may arrive. 

The wind information is crucial for pilots and boaters to know how much time they have to get a trip done before bad weather sets in. 

Without the key information, Eilertsen is concerned some pilots, feeling an obligation to carry out a flight, may end up flying in weather that could suddenly worsen.

"It tells us how much time we have to complete a trip and if we don't have the necessary time maybe the pilots are going to get pressured into doing the trip and then maybe flying back in real bad weather," he said.

A seaplane flies the skies on BC's West Coast (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Eilertsen said he contacted Environment and Climate Change Canada about the problem, but the person he spoke with gave him the impression that the repair is not a priority.

He said the weather station has to be serviced  by helicopter, which was much easier to do over the summer. Now, with poor fall weather setting in, he wonders when it will happen. Eilertsen says he also alerted Transport Canada, but no repairs have taken place.

No repair date scheduled

Gabrielle Lamontange, a spokesperson  for Environment and Climate Change Canada wrote in an email to CBC News that "the station will be serviced on the next maintenance trip." 

When questioned as to when that will be, the Lamontange wrote "the next maintenance trip is not yet scheduled."  Environment Canada's Meteorological service "monitors the situation closely,'' she said, and "the data from this station is monitored on a daily basis."

Eilertsen believes officials at Environment Canada are indifferent to the concerns of those who operate air and water craft on the central coast.  "Sorry, but I would say they don't care, " he said. 

Environment Canada's Sartine Island automated weather station is partly broken, and is not providing crucial wind velocity or direction. (Environment Canada website)

Eilertsen says that his company doesn't take the risk to fly in potentially unsafe weather, but he worries about other outfits.

"There's other companies that are struggling, that have to do the flight for economical reasons that might be pushing the weather right to the end,'' he said.

Last September, Eilertsen alerted authorities about two offline weather webcams and a different automated weather station on the B.C. coast that weren't functioning. All three sites have since been repaired.

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