'This is not a small problem': TSB's Fond-du-Lac investigation finds planes often aren't de-iced

"Almost 40 per cent of participating pilots said that they are rarely or never able to have their aircraft effectively de-iced at remote airports," said lead TSB investigator David Ross.

Pilots flying northern routes across Canada frequently take off with ice on wings

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada found planes on northern routes frequently aren't de-iced. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is recommending that Transport Canada work with airlines to improve de-icing procedures in remote airports across the country after a crash near Fond-du-Lac, Sask. last year.

One of West Wind Aviation's twin-turboprop planes, an ATR 42-320, crashed near the Fond-du-Lac airport seconds after takeoff on the night of Dec. 13, 2017. Fond-du-Lac is about 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Nine passengers were seriously injured in the crash and another died in hospital two weeks later.

The TSB said that the plane was not-de-iced before takeoff, despite having ice on its wings.

 The risk, frankly, is substantial.- David Ross, lead TSB investigator 

This year, as part of their investigation, the TSB sent out a questionnaire to pilots flying in remote areas of Canada. After receiving 650 responses, investigators found pilots frequently take off with ice on their planes.

 "Almost 40 per cent of participating pilots said that they are rarely or never able to have their aircraft effectively de-iced at remote airports," said lead TSB investigator David Ross. "This is not a small problem."

The TSB asked the federal Department of Transport to identify airports where there is inadequate anti-icing and de-icing equipment and make sure the situation is resolved.

Investigators found planes in remote airports often take off with ice on their planes, creating a dangerous situation.

"Since many remote airports can have an icing season of ten months or more, the risk, frankly, is substantial," said Ross.

The announcement comes despite the TSB's investigation into the crash in remote Fond-du-Lac, Sask. over a year ago not yet having wrapped up.

"During an investigation, at any time if we find any safety deficiencies, we don't hesitate to communicate those," a TSB spokesperson said Wednesday. "It doesn't happen often but it happens from time to time."

Arson Fern Jr., 19, died after two weeks in critical condition after the crash. (Fern family/GoFundMe)

Complex situation

Glenn Priestley, executive director of the Northern Air Transportation Association, said his organization takes safety at northern airports very seriously and will work with the TSB to find a solution..

"When something happens, we all strive to learn so it doesn't happen again," said Priestley. 'We never sit on our laurels and brag about our safety record."

The association represents airlines across northern Canada and has often raised the problem of outdated facilities. An auditor general's report last year cited problems with everything from lighting to navigation systems.

Priestley said those infrastructure issues like outdated de-icing equipment are complicated by the issue of being in remote locations with relatively low traffic.

"We can't do something like Toronto's done," he said. "They have a co-operative de-icing facility. Well, they have the traffic to do so."

He said many remote locations can sometimes have difficulty keeping de-icing fluid on hand, making the situation more complicated.

"It takes a lot of material to de-ice an airplane, a lot of de-icing fluid," he said. "The only way to get that in is to fly it in, in most cases."

Priestley said many northern airlines take icing into consideration when deciding whether or not to fly and can put off flights until conditions improve.

"On a daily basis, we have to make sure of the safety of the travelling public," he said. "We have to make sure we can manage the risk."

Cause still unknown

The TSB has not yet said what it believes caused the crash in Fond-du-Lac, but engine failure was ruled out early during the investigation.

Investigators found a "systemic safety deficiency" at Saskatoon-based airline West Wind Aviation.

The TSB also said that the plane was not-de-iced before takeoff, despite having ice on its wings.

That won't happen again, West Wind's new CEO said in a news release Wednesday.

"West Wind supports the decision of flight crews to call for deicing at any time, eliminating the likelihood of an aircraft taking off with ice contaminated wings," said Michael Rodyniuk, who took over the company in October.

"Enhanced deicing equipment has been delivered to its destinations across the north and training of its personnel accomplished. The equipment is tested and ready for operations daily, confirmed on a morning operation's call."

At the time of the crash, the company used a spray bottle to de-ice plans, a measure airline experts deemed "woefully inadequate." 

The new de-icing equipment is one of several "sweeping" changes at the airline following the "ill-fated" Flight 282, said Rodyniuk.

Those other changes include a new management team plus improvements to the company's training and Safety Management System (SMS), he said. 

Grounded for 5 months

West Wind was already grounded once, for about five months, after the crash.

Transport Canada, which regulates Canadian airlines, inspected the airline immediately after the crash and found "deficiencies in the company's operational control system."

Operational control systems track several of things, including:

  • A plane's maintenance history.
  • The weight of a plane's luggage and cargo and how that weight is distributed throughout the plane.
  • Communication between pilots, dispatchers and other on-the-ground airline employees.
  • The field experience of the pilots and how many hours they worked before a flight.

90 days to respond

While their work may overlap, Transport Canada and the TSB work independently of each other.

The TSB's announcement about recommendations is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. CST in Saskatoon.

Transport Canada will have 90 days to respond to the TSB.

Friday's announcement is not expected to wade into the cause of the crash. 

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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With files from David Shield


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