Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay, Ont., airline says province needs to get into de-icing business

An airline based in Thunder Bay, Ont., says the provincial government needs to start funding de-icing services at northern and remote airports, after an interim report was released by the Transportation Safety Board, looking into a plane crash in Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan.

De-icing at northern, remote airports cited as issue in Fond-du-Lac crash

Employees de-ice a plane at a northern airport in remote Labrador. (Twitter/@oneillyatescbc)

An airline based in Thunder Bay, Ont., says the provincial government needs to start funding de-icing services at northern and remote airports, after an interim report was released by the Transportation Safety Board, looking into a plane crash in Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan.

The report noted de-icing facilities in northern and remote airports are virtually non-existent, with the exception of hand-held sprayers for de-icing fluid. Those pieces of equipment can be insufficient to ensure larger aircraft lifting surfaces are free of contamination.

Tom Meilleur, the Vice-President of North Star Air, said the larger the aircraft flying into a remote airport, the bigger the challenge can be, particularly in bad weather.

"The equipment we do have is limited in its use, and it depends on the weather conditions. In other words, in heavy precipitation, or in heavy snowfalls, it doesn't do the job, therefore we have to end up cancelling flights."

Meilleur said the size of the plane is a major factor; small planes, such as PC-12, can be de-iced with hand-held devices, and a ladder. A plane with a tail reaching 20-plus feet into the air, needs specialized lift equipment.

He said the onus should be put on the Ministry of Transportation to provide the service.

"The government operates airports. The bigger airports have a dedicated de-icing contractor. So, in the heavy precipitation you can de-ice much faster," he said.
The airport in Fond-du-Lac, Sask., is similar to many other small and remote airports, in that it does not have any major equipment for de-icing aircraft. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

"One of the effects is what you call holdover time. In the time you de-ice until the time you get airborne, the fluids you put on the airplane have a limitation on timing. Sometimes it gets down to two to three minutes. In the north, it's impossible to de-ice an airplane and within two to three minutes get airborne."

Meilleur said while flight delays are inconvenient, its medevac flights that need to run regardless of the weather. It could be a "life or death situation," he said, if a plane cannot take off due to icing.
The province of Saskatchewan says that upgrades to Fond-du-Lac's airport were being discussed prior to a Dec. 13, 2017 plane crash that claimed the life of one. A Transportation Safety Board report released one year later says de-icing issues are to blame. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

He estimates it would cost about $250,000 per airport to bring in the necessary equipment so larger aircraft can be completely de-iced. He said that includes pumps, storage tanks, heating systems, and lifts so chemicals can be applied properly.

"The airlines, like I say, are willing to step up to the plate, pay for the services, and what have you."

"[It] also creates employment within the community. I think it's a win-win, once the government gets their heads around it, and understands how this works."

About the Author

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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