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Warming up to a new climate

Given our geography and climate, getting around by air is more difficult in Canada than anywhere else in the world.


January 10, 2014
By Brian Dunn

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Given our geography and climate, getting around by air is more difficult in Canada than anywhere else in the world. And while flying hours in this country are at an all-time high, the good news is, our nation’s safety record is improving, according to Gerard McDonald, assistant deputy minister, safety and security, from Transport Canada (TC). McDonald was one of the presenters at the Third International Winter Operations Conference in Vancouver Oct. 9-10 sponsored by the Flight Safety Division of the Air Canada Pilots Association.

 de-icing and anti-icing standards
Over the past few years, all aspects of ground de-icing and
anti-icing standards have undergone significant change.
Photo: Aéroports de Montréal


In 2000, Canada’s accident rate was nearly eight accidents per 100,000 hours flown. In 2012, the rate fell to 5.2 accidents per 100,000 hours. Canada has averaged 40 fewer accidents per year compared to the previous 10-year average, McDonald noted, and he attributes the improvement to a sound safety culture and safety management system.

There has also been increased collaboration between TC and the airline industry in recent years, said McDonald, who noted the keys to success include sharing best practices, communicating lessons learned and maintaining an active exchange of information.

The aviation industry’s improved safety record, particularly in North America and Europe, may lead to complacency, noted keynote speaker David McMillan, chairman of the board of governors at the Flight Safety Foundation. He cited several examples of European airports that were not prepared when faced with unusual winter conditions and called for more training and equipment. Airports, he noted, should also take advantage of the “huge volume of available technology.”

If airlines don’t abide by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Clean Aircraft Concept, accidents will happen, said Michael Chaput, president of De-icing Innovations of Kirkland, Que. He cited several examples of crashes due to ice buildup, including the March 10, 1989, crash of an Air Ontario Fokker F-28 aircraft in Dryden, Ont., that killed 24 passengers and crew. The crash was attributed to a number of factors, including Air Ontario not having engines-on de-icing procedures, the aircraft not de-icing, and the runway being contaminated with snow and slush.

A Commission of Inquiry was established after that crash, which made 191 recommendations, many pertaining to ground de-icing. A research and development (R&D) program was also initiated by TC in 1990 after the Dryden crash, which the FAA joined in 1992 following an accident at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The R&D program focused on de-icing and anti-icing fluid performance, weather definition and reporting, runway condition reporting, and information dissemination.

In 1990, the holdover timetables were not based on any scientific data, whereas today there are 27 different timetables that are finished, according to Chaput. In addition, there are close to 70 approved de-icing fluids available compared to only two in 1990. Back then, there were no industry standards; now, “virtually all aspects of ground de-icing and anti-icing are covered by robust industry standards, recommended practices, guidance materials and advisory circulars,” Chaput said.

Most airports globally have performed – or are in the process of performing – a review of their winter operations for several reasons, he said. Evolving weather, especially in Europe in the past three years, has changed significantly in places that normally don’t experience winter. There is increased traffic and overcapacity and if an airport fails to respond to a crisis, it will be all over social media, which can tarnish an airport’s reputation. In the future, there will be a standardization of international processes and procedures, increased outsourcing of de-icing services to specialists, along with more emphasis on quality control and auditing.

Denver International Airport, for example, was forced to change its approach from snow removal to snow melting following a major blizzard in 2006 that dumped 56 centimetres of snow on the area over 35 hours. The storm stranded 5,000 passengers and cost the airport about $60 million.

The airport increased its pieces of equipment from 60 to 86, including the acquisition of 12 snow melters than can melt 544 tons of snow an hour, the equivalent of 40 to 60 snow removal dump trucks. In 2006, it took an average of 45 minutes to clean a runway. With the snow melters, the time has been reduced to 15 minutes. A new action plan was implemented resulting in shorter de-icing queues, shorter taxi times, shorter takeoff waiting times and minimum holdover times.

The human element
A presentation entitled “Chasing the dirty dozen on frozen ground” examined human factors in aircraft ground de-icing. The dozen factors examined case studies involving a lack of communications, lack of resources, lack of knowledge, lack of awareness and presence of distractions.

In terms of human factors on the ramp, the number of employees is declining and outsourcing is increasing, resulting in extremely high employee turnover at some locations being replaced by less experienced operators, according to Don Borntrager, de-ice engineer at American Airlines.

In a survey sent to all of AA’s de-icing stations, 18.5 per cent of respondents said fatigue was a factor when conducting de-icing operations, while 20.8 per cent felt their request that policies and procedures be edited or clarified in training documents was ignored.

Currently, there is no single unified global de-icing standard and airlines realize that safety and costs would be improved if there were one. As a result, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been mandated by its operations committee to develop such a standard through the newly created Council for Globalized Aircraft De-icing Standards, which includes training procedures for aircraft de-icing.

Challenges in the Far North
Winter operations north of the 60th parallel present even more challenges than normal with extreme temperatures, fewer navigation aids and fewer paved runways. As a result, a President’s Committee for Remote Operations (PCRO) was formed in June 2012, by the Air Line Pilots Association, International, to improve safety in the Far North.

Several navigation, airport infrastructure, flight planning and weather information needs have been identified. For example, a lack of accurate navigation capabilities limits flight operations which impacts service to remote communities. And remote operation areas require more navigational flexibility due to geography and weather conditions, noted PCRO chair, Captain Peter Black.

Many airports need improved approach, runway and taxiway lighting, improved ground handling equipment, better emergency equipment for hazardous materials and improved flight/weather communication services, Black noted. And with 11,700 polar flights, 373,000 oceanic over-flights and 255,000 flights that overflew the 60-degree latitude or Canadian domestic aerospace in 2012, realistic diversion airports north of 60 degrees need to be designated, while selected airports to safely accommodate passengers need to be improved. In addition, some runways need to be lengthened and rescue plans need to be developed or enhanced, said Black.

Some progress has been made in the Canadian North, Black pointed out. For example, 35 RNAV approaches were approved in 2013 and 60 RNAV approaches are being designed for 2014. The process of designing new instrument approach procedures for Nunavut is also well underway and stakeholder airlines are submitting prioritized lists of airfields and runways for GPS approaches.

Landing accidents and runway overruns in Canada are more common than we think, according to Joseph Hincke, member, Transportation Safety Board of Canada. He listed 12 incidents at various airports across Canada between March 24, 2012, and Aug. 14, 2012. “It’s the second tier operators where most accidents occur,” he said. “Make sure your feeder carrier has a good safety record.”

“What’s needed? he asked. “Strong SOPs (standard operating procedures) that force crews to recognize and act on the situation.” In conclusion, Hincke noted that pilots need timely information about runway conditions and they must receive mandatory training to enable them to make better decisions about landing in deteriorating weather. And regulators need to establish clear standards to limit landings in bad weather.

Building for the future
Winter operations present global airports and operators with a myriad challenges, from effective de-icing solutions to dealing with fatigue management to a lack of accurate navigation capabilities and more. As the airline industry continues to find ways to stay out of the deep freeze, there’s little doubt conferences such as the International Winter Operations Conference will be invaluable in helping to develop effective strategies and solutions for the challenges winter weather presents.


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