Sunday, September 9, 2018

Broken weather information sites put pilots in 'dangerous position' • 'If the pilots don't get home, nobody else gets home'

Air Cab float plane operator Joel Eilersten says the weather webcams that are not functioning could result in accidents. 

A British Columbia float plane operator claims three out-of-order coastal navigation systems may pose a danger to the lives of pilots and passengers.

Joel Eilertsen operates Air Cab, which flies loggers, fishermen and tourists up and down the coast to remote locations every day. He also picks up people with medical emergencies.

Eilersten says two webcams and an automated weather station that pilots rely on for navigation need to be fixed immediately, particularly with fall weather on the way.

"It's definitely a safety issue," says Eilertsen. "In the case of an emergency we have to know that we can go ahead and complete the whole job for people that may be hurt or otherwise."

Eilertsen says the only aviation webcam between Alert Bay and Bella Bella, on Addenbroke Island, has been out of order for three months.

Other sites not in service

A second webcam at Chatham Point near Campbell River is also out of commission. Webcams are used by coastal pilots to judge current cloud levels and visibility.

An automated weather station run by Environment Canada at Herbert Island, about 34 kilometres north of Port Hardy, is also not in service.

The weather station at Herbert Island is "the only one that gives very accurate wind information," says Eilertsen, who has 49 years of flying experience. "If we don't know about it, we could run into severe downdrafts that could create accidents."

Eilertsen is most concerned about the off-line Addenbroke Island webcam, which he says is used continuously by pilots flying up and down the coast.

"There is the potential of always having an accident," he says. "There's also the potential of having a problem and being forced to use a route that we really don't know what the visibility or the winds are, and then having an accident."

Both webcams are operated by NavCanada, a private organization jointly run by the federal government and the aviation industry.

A screen grab of the NavCanada webcam at Addenbroke Island shows the camera is not functioning.

'We certainly regret the inconvience'

NavCanada spokesperson Jonathan Bagg told CBC News there are "challenges with the infrastructure" at both locations.

He acknowledged construction to the lighthouse-keeper's deck on Addenbroke Island meant the webcam was taken down and needs to be re-installed. Problems with the satellite dish at Chatham Point have interfered with service there.

"We certainly regret the inconvenience" said Bagg. "We are working diligently to fix the cameras."

NavCanada does not have a date for when the cameras will be back in working order.

In the meantime, Bagg said NavCanada encourages pilots to use a 1-800 number to contact its flight service specialists at a centre in Kamloops. The experts there have access to specialized aviation weather information.

'If the pilots don't get home, nobody else gets home'

Environment Canada spokesperson Marilyne Lavoie wrote in an email to CBC News that the Herbert Island weather station "is experiencing problems with [its] telecommunication equipment resulting in data not being transmitted." A maintenance trip is scheduled for mid-October.

As for Eilertsen, he says there is no substitute for seeing in real time what the weather looks like, especially when visibility is poor.

"The two webcams being down definitely puts our pilots into a very unknown position and a dangerous position," he says.

"If the pilots don't get home, nobody else gets home."

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