Pilots association suggests Arctic airport improvements

The Air Line Pilots Association, International says making sure all the airports in Nunavut and Northwest Territories have GPS approaches at both ends of the runway would increase safety and reduce costs.

Recommends GPS approaches at both ends of runways and paving gravel airstrips

The Air Line Pilots Association, International says it is happy that people are talking about aviation safety in the Arctic, and has a few infrastructure suggestions to improve safety and efficiency.

New Democratic MPs and new NDP Transport Critic Olivia Chow called on the Conservative Government last week to make flying in the North safer.

Devin Lyall, who represents First Air pilots in the association, stressed the organization does not take political sides but that there are some relatively inexpensive ways to make flying safer and more efficient in the North.

"We're really pleased that some of these issues came out in the public," he said. "I think a lot of people would be surprised to know about approaches and infrastructure in the North. Aviation is very safe in the North — we've been flying up there for a very long time — but these communities, I mean it's their only mode of transportation most of the year — most of their food and medical supplies."

Lyall said a relatively cheap way to help reduce risk and increase the chances of being able to land in a community is making sure all the airports in Nunavut and Northwest Territories have GPS approaches at both ends of the runway.

That gives pilots more choice in wind and bad weather. Lyall said without that option, planes have to carry more fuel — and less cargo — in case they can't land. When a plane can’t land, flights have to be repeated. That all adds up to more time and money, and makes flying more expensive.

The pilots association has identified 28 airports in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories that could use new GPS approaches. Lyall said designing a new approach starts at about $15,000.

The association would also like to see other runway improvements such as making them longer and paving them. That's a much more expensive, longer-term investment but one that will become necessary since newer models of energy-efficient jets are not certified to land on gravel airstrips.

Lyall said the Pilots Association has set up a committee on Remote Operations with pilot representatives from First Air, Canadian North, Calm Air and Alaska and will continue to push for improvements.