The minimum cloud ceiling for take-off and landing at the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar could be lowered from the current 3,000 feet to 1,000 feet, making the airport more reliable for passengers.
That’s according to a consultant report received in August by Castlegar City Council from the American aviation consultant Jeppesen. The proposed system would require the airport to jump through a number of regulatory and technical hoops, and it depends on the willingness of Air Canada to take on a new navigation system.
“We are thinking the whole process could take two years, to an aircraft flying into Castlegar,” said aviation consultant Jim Gouk, who is employed by the City of Castlegar to shepherd the process to completion. He is a former Member of Parliament for the area.
The changes would involve the adoption of Required Navigation Performance (RNP), a system common in many airports around the world.
“This is widespread, this is not cutting edge,” Gouk says.
The Jeppesen report states that a procedure could be developed but that it would involve exceptions to current Canadian safety standards, and that these would have to be approved by Transport Canada specifically for the Castlegar airport.
An RNP approach involves satellites and a flight management system in the aircraft that guides it on an approach it would not otherwise be able to take.
Gouk said the standard approach involves the plane flying in a series of straight lines between points as it approaches an airport, but “RNP allows the aircraft to fly in a curved approach, staying in the middle of a valley even though the terrain varies, keeping maximum clearance from the side hills.”
An RNP system consists of computer software developed by Nav Canada for a specific airport and run by the airline. It requires no additional airport equipment. Nav Canada is the company that runs navigational systems in all Canadian airports.
One of the hurdles will be finding an airline to use the system. Gouk says the Dash 8 aircraft currently used by Air Canada for its Castlegar flight is not capable of it, and Air Canada would need to upgrade to the Q400 aircraft, which it uses in many of its routes.
The airline would have to commit to first testing the newly developed system in a simulator and training its pilots.
The Star has attempted several times over the past two years to contact Air Canada to ask them how likely this might be and how long they intend to use the Dash 8 to fly to Castlegar. We have received no response.
In an email to the Star this week, WestJet said it has no plans to include Castlegar on its route map. Getting Air Canada or another airline on board would not be the end of it. Nav Canada would still have to get Transport Canada approval of the new system.
Transport Canada would consider whether the new system meets established safety requirements.
In January, 2016, the Star quoted Nav Canada as saying that the development of a safe RNP take-off procedure from Castlegar was not possible under Canadian regulations.
Gouk disputed this at the time, saying that an RNP system allowing a take-off from airports similar to Castlegar’s has been approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and that Transport Canada often allows FAA-authorized procedures to be used in Canada as formal exceptions to Transport Canada’s standard criteria.
The Jeppesen report agrees, and states that designing new procedures to increase reliability at the airport is possible, but that the procedures “will require significant exceptions to the current Transport Canada approved criteria… The noted exceptions have been approved in the U.S. by the FAA for specific operators and aircraft types.”
Gouk said new technology related to safety standards is always evolving and he expects that Transport Canada would accept the American standards as applied to Castlegar.
He said meetings with Air Canada are next on his agenda.
The $260,000 Jeppesen report was partially funded by municipal and regional governments in the West Kootenay.