Airport safer with improvements

Snow storms and dense cloud cover won’t keep planes from landing at Vanderhoof Airport

Apryl Veld

Ominica Express

Snow storms and dense cloud cover won’t keep planes from landing at Vanderhoof Airport now that global positioning system upgrades have been added together with other major improvements.

“Most importantly, Medevac aircraft can land in life and death situations, (to take the critically injured to hospital),” noted college flight instructor and pilot, Ty Roberts.

The co-ordinator for Aviation Business program at College of New Caledonia (CNC) explained that the upgrades give pilots safe co-ordinates (waypoints) to get them onto and off of the tarmac safely and in spite of weather conditions.

Waypoints are magnetic co-ordinates that work with instruments already inside all aircraft and are used by all flight pilots.

“The whole idea is that in bad weather, (with the new GPS waypoints) you can get into the Vanderhoof airport and take off from the Vanderhoof airport,” he noted. This is something pilots are not allowed to do without accurate information about their geographic position, he said, “because in bad weather you can’t see anything of the terrain around and so you’re flying blind.”

Roberts noted the importance of accurately lining up the plane with airport landing strips, saying, “you always need to know where you are.”

Two flight simulation units obtained for the college employ the new waypoints when training pilots. Roberts demonstrated for the Omineca Express a take off and landing in zero visibility, aided by the GPS waypoint system. Even with one virtual engine disabled, Roberts flew the mock plane to a smooth landing.

Roberts credited the District of Vanderhoof for leading the way in getting the waypoints application designed and approved by Transport Canada.

The district along with Vanderhoof flight school operators, and local doctors all advocated for the upgrades, noting safety issues, economic growth potential and emergency air lifts as key driving factors that needed to be addressed for the airport.

The improvements they worked together to bring about over the past three years include a new weather system, refurbished runways and improved lighting.

These important features are already employed in many small airports and will be beneficial for local residents and key to growing the region’s economy, says Eric Stier, the co-owner (with Bryan Wallace) of Guardian Aerospace, a Vanderhoof flight school. Stiers says he worked with the district and doctors along with other airport supporters in lobbying and planning for the improvements.

“We can now train pilots to an airline program,” Stier said, “and we can now attract international flight students to Vanderhoof.”

Stiers said big business has already taken notice of the airport improvements as predicted, with B.C. business mandarin, Jimmy Pattison being the first to land his estimated $23 million jet at Vanderhoof airport using the new system, beating Stiers out to be the first, he said.

Stiers says business in the region will grow significantly with the new advances, but  notes he hopes the airport can incorporate one last piece of the puzzle.

“If the airport were to do one last item, it’s if the (new) weather station information made it onto NavCanada, (a not for profit company which operates the airwaves, the beacons and all the air traffic controllers, and the flight service stations), is that if we could take our weather and put it on their network, it would mean that any company, be it Air Canada or the B.C. Air Medevac system, can file a flight directly to Vanderhoof, so when you do a GPS approach, the system on board the aircraft would  tell you … even 30 seconds ahead of time, if there’s going to be a failure of the satellite system that would prevent you from conducting that approach.”