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Pole: Ottawa Perspective-Nov/Dec 05

If you’re doing a local navigation route, you definitely should be telling someone.


September 28, 2007
By Ken Pole

This is a tale, hopefully salutary, of two accidents within days of
each other this summer. One involved a Beech King Air 200 out of
Vancouver with two commercial pilots aboard, the other a Cessna 172
flown by a VFR-rated dentist in northern Ontario.

The
Beech, owned by Northern Thunderbird Air, was reported missing July 28
on what should have been a routine flight to the north-central British
Columbia town of Smithers. There was no radio communication with the
Beech; nor did it appear on air traffic control or military radar. Tony
Pleasants, the Vancouverbased Transportation Safety Board inspector in
charge of the file, said the wreckage was found by a Canadian Forces
helicopter search-and-rescue (SAR) crew in a canyon “pretty much” on
its expected course along the Squamish River Valley. The crew had filed
a company flight note rather than a flight plan, which is fairly
routine in such circumstances, but SAR personnel at least had a good
idea of where to look. The fact that it took about 45 hours is
testament to the mountainous terrain.

That wasn’t the case with
the Cessna, which is still missing as I write this at the end of
September. Dr. Ness Amano was flying from Sault Ste. Marie via Wawa to
his home in Marathon. The two legs are 140 and 110 kilometres around
the eastern shores of Lake Ontario, some of the distance potentially
over deep water. There were some suggestions that he might divert to
visit family in Toronto but a baggage handler at the Sault evidently
overheard him saying he was just going on a local flight, possibly to
scout property, perhaps explaining Amano’s decision not to file a
flight plan. Conditions were VFR in the Sault but deteriorating to IFR
at Marathon under a 400-foot ceiling and three-quarters of a mile
visibility. Amano left the Sault July 24 but wasn’t reported missing
until he didn’t show up at his practice August 2. His truck was still
at the SSM airport. “It’s a huge area,” LCol Colin Goodman, senior
staff officer for search and rescue at air force operational
headquarters, 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg, pointed out. “Was he
going to Toronto? Was he going back home? Or was he going fishing on a
local lake? We have no idea.”

By the time the Canadian Forces
called off the search a week later, the cost had topped $692,000! That
covered a pair of C-130 Lockheed Hercules ($4,661 an hour each) and a
Cormorant ($3,770 an hour) out of 424 Sqn Trenton, another Herc out of
435 Sqn Winnipeg, a pair of Griffons ($666 an hour each) out of 427
Tactical Helicopter Sqn Petawawa and another Griffon out of 439 Tac
Helo Sqn Bagotville. The total covered transit as well as search time
but not, obviously, the potential costs of putting those aircraft and
their crews at risk.

But money isn’t uppermost in the minds of
the superhumanly capable military SAR crews. “The greatest challenge
for us is that if people . . . do put in a flight plan, they’re not
reporting enough,” said Goodman, a helicopter pilot with some 5,300
hours of SAR work in his log. It didn’t help that by the time the
Canadian Forces were made aware of the situation, Amano had been
potentially missing for a week. “We’ll do everything we can, but coming
from a week behind is certainly not a good way to start,” Goodman said,
adding that the SAR teams were clearly frustrated by the lack of a
flight plan to track.

Canadian Aviation Regulation 602.70
requires a flight plan to be filed with an ATC unit, flight service
station or community airport radio station for all IFR flights. Pilots
may file an IFR flight itinerary instead, if the flight is conducted
partly or wholly outside controlled airspace or facilities are
inadequate to permit the communication of flight plan information to
the relevant authority. Pilots operating under VFR also must file a
flight plan or VFR flight itinerary, except where the flight is
conducted within 25 nautical miles of the departure point.

Flight
plans obviously are a Transport Canada jurisdiction, but Goodman and
his crews are the ones who have to deal with pilots’ failures to file
in many instances. Asked whether he felt flight plans should be
mandatory under all situations, he chose his words carefully.
“Obviously I’d encourage everybody to do so,” he replied, stressing
that he did not want to sound Draconian. “It’s an insurance policy.
It’s like your house; if it burns down and you don’t have insurance,
what happens?” He pointed out, too, that it only takes a few minutes to
file a plan or itinerary.

“It’s highly encouraged if you’re
going any distance. If you’re just on a local flight, some
bumps-and-gos, or staying within 10-15 minutes flight time of your
airport, I don’t think any of us would suggest that you have to file a
flight plan. But if you’re doing a local navigation route or something
like that, you definitely should be telling someone where you’re going.”

You
can’t say you haven’t been warned. I got the impression from the civil
aviation folk at Transport Canada that they wouldn’t be very happy at
the prospect of making flight plans a universal requirement, but it
might only be a matter of time before the cost of fruitless SAR
missions has to be taken into account.


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