Saskatoon

West Wind Aviation subsidiary tapped to take over Sask. mine worker flights for Cameco

The move, deemed temporary, was confirmed by Cameco on Saturday. Transwest Air will take over the mining company's flights from West Wind Aviation, which has been grounded by Transport Canada.

Transwest Air to take over mining worker flights previously operated by West Wind Aviation

A West Wind Aviation plane parked at the company's Saskatoon hangar. (CBC)

Cameco is no longer using West Wind Aviation — the company whose plane crashed in Fond-du-Lac, Sask, last month — to fly people to and from its mining and milling operations in northern Saskatchewan.

The move, deemed temporary, was confirmed by the uranium company on Saturday.

Cameco will instead use West Wind's wholly owned subsidiary Transwest Air. Both airlines are 80 per cent owned by Athabasca Basin Development — a group of seven northern Saskatchewan communities — and Prince Albert Development Corporation.

Cameco says its shift in flight providers is temporary. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

"We're still using Transport Canada-approved carriers and services from other carriers, all of which meet our own standards as well as those of the government," said Gord Struthers, a Cameco spokesperson.

"We conduct our own audits to make sure that they meet our own standards and expectations as well," he added.

"We have audited Transwest in each of the past two years and a further audit is planned for 2018."

West Wind already grounded

The company's switching of flight providers is hardly a surprise move, given that Transport Canada grounded all West Wind flights as of Dec. 22. The company had already voluntarily taken all of its ATR turboprop planes out of the air.

Transport Canada suspended West Wind's air operator certificate after doing an inspection of the Saskatoon-based airline following the Dec. 13 crash of a 44-seat West Wind ATR plane in Fond-du-Lac, 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

West Wind Aviation was inspected by Transport Canada and grounded after the Dec. 13 plane crash in Fond-du-Lac. (CBC)

One passenger on that flight died in a Saskatoon hospital two weeks after the crash.

During its inspection, Transport Canada found "deficiencies" in the system used by West Wind to track factors like a plane's maintenance history, the fitness of pilots to fly a plane and the weight of the aircraft after takeoff.

Transwest has its own air operator certificate and was not affected by Transport Canada's actions against West Wind.

What's next

Now the company has to give Transport Canada what's known as a corrective action plan. 

"In order to get their air operator certificate back, they're going to have to prove compliance and do so by virtue of their corrective action plan," said Greg McConnell, a former longtime Transport Canada inspector.  

Cameco's Struthers defended West Wind's flight record.

"Prior to the incident in December, they had an impeccable safety record. It's not the easiest flying conditions in northern Saskatchewan. It's a pretty challenging place to operate."

Domestic flight licences suspended

A day after Transport Canada grounded the airline, the Canadian Transportation Agency took its own, essentially moot step of suspending West Wind's licences for operating domestic flights.

This week, a red banner was added to the top of West Wind's website telling visitors that "air operations have been suspended until further notice."

This banner appeared on the top of West Wind Aviation's website this week. (West Wind Aviation )

Neither its air operator certificate nor its licences for domestic flights had been reinstated as of Saturday, said Dennis Baranieski, West Wind's vice-president of business development and corporate services.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the Dec. 13 crash.

The investigation could take up to one year to complete.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

now