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Environmental factors

Dear Editor,

Operating out of our normal operating environment can create new challenges, and in many cases can provide us with an opportunity to learn new lessons. This story about flying out of my “normal” environment illustrates this quite well. As an airline-transport-rated pilot with many years of commercial and airline experience, I think I understand the system very well, in particular the IFR environment. While I take great pleasure in operating modern sophisticated aircraft, flying a light aircraft provides me with an opportunity for a different kind of pleasure-to get back to basics by operating in a different environment, mostly VFR and uncontrolled.

One Saturday a few summers ago, I planned a short trip in a floatplane to Red Lake, Ont., from a cottage base in northwestern Ontario. The 80-NM flight was planned for about 45 min. Appropriate charts and the floatplane supplement were reviewed and carried on board. The public AM radio forecast indicated excellent weather for the region. With little convenient ability to get a comprehensive briefing before departure, it was planned to request one once airborne and in VHF range of the Kenora, Ont., flight service station (FSS).

Once airborne, the request was made for VFR to Red Lake, and the FSS confirmed excellent VFR weather en route. After an uneventful flight to the Red Lake area, I tuned and monitored frequency 122.3 (Winnipeg Radio at Red Lake). There was some traffic in the area. One aircraft estimating Howie Bay, Ont. (about 3 NM south of Red Lake), about 10 min ahead of us, another landing at Cochenour, Ont. (about 2 NM west of Red Lake), about the same time, and a CL215 water bomber preparing for departure from Red Lake. We made the standard advisory and provided an estimate for the water base 10 min hence, at about 1505 UTC. The FSS advised of the traffic we had heard, and that the CL215, now airborne, would be performing a demonstration flight of its pick-up and drop capabilities. No other information was provided. The CL215 was in sight from 5–6 NM out, performing what appeared to be a left hand circuit, landing on the water to the west into the favouring wind.

With the CL215 on the frequency and in sight after it had performed a water pick-up, we called overhead and subsequently landed well out in the bay, north of the townsite (approximately 2 mi.). After our landing, the CL215 completed another water run and drop to the south, in front of the townsite. After taxiing into the docks at the north end of town, we were waved into an open spot where we were assisted with docking. After securing the aircraft, we were approached by a gentleman who informed us he was a Transport Canada (TC) inspector. He inquired as to our departure point and asked if we were aware that there was a NOTAM on Red Lake regarding an air show. We explained that we had departed from a remote area, had received our VFR briefing from the Kenora FSS, and had again communicated on the mandatory frequency (MF) with Winnipeg Radio at Red Lake when arriving in the area. A discussion took place with regard to the responsibility of the pilot-incommand (PIC) for NOTAM awareness. I advised that all reasonable diligence had been performed and needless to say, that I would never knowingly disregard a NOTAM.

We subsequently learned that a NOTAM existed, advising of an air show 1500–1700 UTC, and that nonair show aircraft should stay clear of a 2 NM radius area, 2.5 NM south of Red Lake (approximately the townsite). Given the traffic and advisory, at no time did I feel there was any risk associated with landing in the area. All aircraft were in sight of each other and remained clear.

Later I reviewed what had caused this potential conflict with compliance, risk management and safety awareness, and came up with the following lessons for all to remember:

  • when operating out of your normal environment, figure out alternate ways to acquire all the information you need to plan and fly your trip;
  • when calling an FSS for a briefing, or when checking in on an MF, specifically ask for all the information you need, including current NOTAMs for the area, rather than expecting that the information will be provided;
  • FSS should remind any new aircraft reporting on the MF of any such restrictive NOTAM before and during the NOTAM period;
  • other pilots in the area and on the same frequency may want to advise arriving pilots if, by their stated intentions, they seem unaware of the NOTAM;
  • while the final responsibility rests with the PIC, the sharing of information by all involved will enhance safety.

I subsequently visited my TC regional office and reviewed this event with an aviation safety inspector. After an open discussion on safety management systems (SMS), we agreed that sharing this story with others could improve awareness and perhaps reduce the risk for others.

Name withheld on request



Are we in trouble to boot?

Dear Editor,

“Alpha Bravo Charlie, Centre would like to talk to you when you get on the ground, are you ready to copy the number?”

Most of us, at some time, have overheard or even received this “request,” and generally it’s accompanied by knowing looks in the cockpits of anyone on the frequency.

Generally, they do not intend to congratulate you on your impeccable flying. So here is the question: Does any crew perform better knowing that ATC has a problem with their flying? I think not. Why, then, are we told this airborne? Shouldn’t a request like this be forwarded to whatever tower, flight service station (FSS), etc., that will handle the aircraft once on the ground? There are plenty of ways of contacting a crew after they land, so why the rush to lower the boom?

In a recent example, we were cleared for a circling approach to the opposite runway by Tower after being handed off from Centre. Low fog caused a missed approach, and as we were tracking back to the airport centre in order to accomplish the published missed approach, we were handed back to Centre. Centre wasn’t aware that we were re-cleared for a circling approach, so from their point of view, we were going the wrong way, and this lead to the dreaded “Centre wants to speak with you...” At this point, we were in the middle of a complicated missed approach, made worse by the fact that we had to accomplish a course reversal once we were over the airport.

In our case, it was just a lack of communication between Tower and Centre, and there was no further trouble, but why didn’t Centre call Tower before calling us? Why didn’t they leave a message with our operations? Why was the first choice to add to the stress/workload of an aircraft in the middle of a missed approach? I think this practice needs to be reviewed-consideration should be shown for aircraft and crews that are airborne and hard at work, and these types of messages should be delayed until the aircraft is safely on the ground.

Angus Magrath
Kelowna, B.C.



Transition lenses

Dear Editor,

A pilot friend showed me some new eyeglasses he had made. They are equipped with transition lenses, and have a graduated sunglass feature, as well as a graduated reading glass feature. I need reading glasses to read publications and some instruments in my aircraft, and I find the add-on reading glass lens on my normal sunglasses leave me with a headache and minor vertigo. I bought a set of transition lenses and they are a wonderful improvement. You can wear them night or day and behind a face shield, and the graduated reading glass feature allows you to lower your head or eyes to read instruments or publications with a gradual transition to the reading glass rather than the abrupt change as with add-on bifocals. It saves headsdown time in the aircraft looking for glasses or trying to fit the appropriate pair of glasses under a headset or helmet, and is as close to normal vision as I’ll ever get without surgery. You may want to consider writing a short piece in the Aviation Safety Letter (ASL) since this may be a fairly significant safety issue given the large number of “older” pilots who have vision challenges.

Bruce MacKinnon
Ottawa, Ont.

Hot Cargo?

Hot Cargo?

This courier flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, PA, after the crew detected smoke in the cockpit. The SMOKE/FIRE warning light illuminated three minutes prior to landing, and the crew asked the tower controller to confirm the presence of fire trucks, which the controller did. Upon landing, the airplane was immediately engulfed in fire and the three members of the crew evacuated the airplane via the cockpit window and a door slide. The crew was not injured; however, the airplane was destroyed. The crew did a brilliant, by-the-book job of saving their own lives, while the professional response from ATC and the firefighting units also contributed to their timely and successful egress. Two known pieces of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) were reportedly on board: amyl methyl keytone and tire repair kits.

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