Nova Scotia

Air Canada Flight 624 wreckage to be moved off Halifax runway

The Transportation Safety Board has given Air Canada the green light to start moving the wreckage of Flight 624 from a runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, two days after it crashed while landing in a snowstorm.

Transportation Safety Board says it could take a couple of days to shift plane

The Air Canada plane crashed upon entry Sunday at the Halifax airport, and officials say it could take a month or more before flights are given the go-ahead to use the runway again. (Reuters)

The Transportation Safety Board has given Air Canada the green light to start moving the wreckage of Flight 624 from a runway at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, two days after it crashed while landing in a snowstorm.

Tuesday afternoon, the safety board tweeted it had finished its site examination of the plane and it now could be moved. The TSB said it would maintain custody of the wreckage and it could take a couple of days to remove it all.

Workers from A.W. Leil Cranes and Equipment were on scene Tuesday to do an assessment although the company has not yet been officially awarded the contract for the wreckage removal, manager Mark Leil said.

Removal equipment is expected to start going up at the site early evening, but the wreckage won't actually be moved Tuesday. When it is moved, it will take several cranes to lift it, and the bulk of it will be stored in a hangar, the safety board said.

Some parts of wreck to be brought back to lab

The investigation into Sunday's crash continues, with the TSB saying its next steps include interviewing passengers, gathering weather information and determining which parts of the wreckage will be collected for further examination at the TSB lab in Ottawa.

This comes as a retired airline captain had some strong words about the role the pilot of Flight 624 may have played in the crash. 

Unless the engines were not producing the proper amount of power, there is really not going to be any excuse for landing short of the runway.- Tom Bunn, retired airline captain

​"Unless the engines were not producing the proper amount of power, there is really not going to be any excuse for landing short of the runway," Tom Bunn told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon. "Your aiming point is a quarter of a mile down the runway. So if you hit short of the runway, you miss by more than a quarter of a mile. There is really no excuse for it."

He was also critical of the pilot's final decisions before touchdown.

"Even if the weather is terrible, the plane is still supposed to stay on the proper glide path down to landing, not duck down below in order to get a better view," Bunn said.

"Because if you say 'Well, it's a little foggy.Let me just drop a little below the glide path,' you might get a better view of the ground before you really want to and that's what happened."

The pilot who crash-landed in Halifax early Sunday had to bring the aircraft in without benefit of an instrument landing system on the ground, according to a retired Transport Canada aviation inspector.

Jock Williams told CBC Tuesday the pilot used the "back course," which he described as "the poor sister of the instrument landing system."

The instrument landing system works with the plane's autopilot and sends signals between the ground and the plane, letting the plane get lower to the ground as it approaches the runway, regardless of poor visibility. That increases the chances of a safe landing in bad weather. 

Halifax does have ILS, but it's only on one end of the runway that was in use Sunday. Given the weather and wind direction, the pilot used the other end of the runway.

Williams told CBC's Information Morning that adding such a system to each runway would be expensive.

"The Halifax airport, and every other airport in the country, has financial constraints," Williams said. "They don't have an unlimited supply of money. And let me tell you, passengers would be the first to complain about increased costs if the airlines were required to pay for it."

'We don't like to spend money on stuff'

The airport has said it follows the guidelines of Nav Canada, the company that provides air navigation systems in Canada, which Williams did not dispute. He said Sunday's crash may lead to changes.

"That's what we call the blood imperative: when you start hurting people, all of a sudden it becomes popular to spend some money. But I wouldn't be blaming Nav Canada. I'd be blaming the generally penuriousness of the Canadian public. We don't like to spend money on stuff."

He added: "Everybody likes to criticize after there's been an accident, but nobody likes to ante up ahead of time"

The Air Canada plane landed during heavy snow and at night. Williams said better lighting would also have helped the pilot. He described the Halifax airport as a "black hole" that offers less surrounding lighting than many other airports.  

He doesn't think Halifax has a long-distance, lead-in light system.

CBC News asked the Halifax airport for details on its lighting systems but has not yet received a reply. 

No exact word on runway repairs

It could take anywhere from two to seven weeks before flights are given the go-ahead to land on the runway where the Air Canada plane crashed Sunday.

Joyce Carter, chief executive of the Halifax International Airport Authority, said work is underway to get runway 05/23 operational as quickly as possible.

After the wreckage is removed, the airport will then inspect the runway for damage and repair if required, setting it up to handle flights in good weather within a few days. 

"However, it will likely take a minimum of at least a month before the navigational aids, damaged during the incident, can be replaced by Nav Canada," she said late Monday. "This means that unfavourable weather conditions — wind, poor visibility, etc.— could affect airline flight schedules."

After crashing, the Airbus A320, which had flown from Toronto, slid another 335 metres along the runway. There were 133 passengers and five crew members on board. Twenty-three people were taken to hospital, none with critical injuries.

On Monday, the airport began a full review of its response to the crash. It took an hour to get passengers off the runway and into shelter after the crash. The passengers, many wearing summer clothes, were stuck outdoors in the snowstorm.

"We are looking at what we did well and at the things we can improve upon and build into our plans and standard operating procedures," Carter said.


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