Air of Compromise in New Canadian Landing Rules; Sliding Scale of Visibility Used

Oct. 6, 2006
Canada is moving a step closer to meeting international standards for bad weather approaches by airliners.

Canada is moving a step closer to meeting international standards for bad weather approaches by airliners.

But Transport Canada says Canada's industry would be crippled if the country followed recommendations from the International Civil Aviation Organization to the letter.

"Part of our job here is to certainly maintain a level of safety, but we also have to consider a sustainable transportation industry," said Wayne Chapin, chief of certification and operational standards. The new rules represent a compromise.

ICAO recommendations would often force landings to be called off if visibility on the runway fell below half a mile.

Canada is getting closer to that, but still won't meet it.

Transport's existing rules require pilots to abandon their approach several kilometres out if visibility measured by instruments on the runway falls below 1,200 feet. At airports without the runway sensors, a loophole means there is no approach ban at all.

The new rules will introduce a sliding scale of visibility required to complete an approach, depending on the sophistication of equipment on planes and on the ground and on levels of crew training. For typical commercial flights operating between significant population centres, the visibility required will be 1,600 feet.

For certain specially equipped aircraft, or on runways with high- intensity runway centreline lighting, approaches down to 1,200 feet visibility will still be allowed for crews with the right training.

The changes do not affect another complementary rule, that pilots must be able to see runway features when they reach 200 feet above the ground.

The loophole at airports without runway sensors is being plugged by allowing manual visibility checks or ordinary ground visibility to be used. The new rules include a broad exemption for airports north of the 60th parallel.

The lobby group representing Canadian airlines fought to retain the existing rules. "Passengers are going to have to get used to having to be diverted to an airport they had no intention of flying to, more often" said Fred Gaspar, vice-president, policy and strategic planning for the Air Transport Association of Canada. "It attempts to put in place a very black-and-white approach to preventing any sort of cowboy (landing) behaviour, but the fact of the matter is that doesn't really occur anyway."

Gaspar accuses Transport Canada of being inconsistent by leaving most northern traffic out of the new regime, while imposing it on other areas.

"Transport is more interested in being seen to be improving the level of safety, rather than actually improving the level of safety," he said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has been calling for tougher rules ever since an Air Canada regional jet crashed in Fredericton in 1997.

A 2002 TSB report said 34 people had been killed and 28 seriously injured between 1994 and 2001 in mishaps "where low visibilities and/or ceilings contributed to the accident." The TSB has said pilots sometimes fly approaches when they have little chance of completing a safe landing.

The new rules will affect some areas and airlines more than others. Conditions at Halifax airport fall below the minimum visibility required by the rules 5 per cent of the time -- equivalent to 18 days a year, Chapin said. At Toronto, it is four days or less.

The changes apply only to commercial operations.

The union representing pilots at several airlines, including Air Canada Jazz and Air Transat, is pleased with the new rules, but says they should also apply to private planes. "Some fellow in his Cessna 172, with a 30-year-old (automatic direction finder) can come in and shoot an approach in weather I cannot fly in," said Captain Bob Perkins, air safety co-ordinator for the Air Line Pilots Association.

News stories provided by third parties are not edited by "Site Publication" staff. For suggestions and comments, please click the Contact link at the bottom of this page.