Guest Editorial

Improving Safety by Focusing on the Basics

Photo of John Crichton, President and CEO of NAV CANADA

John Crichton

The aviation industry has always made steady progress in identifying and managing safety risks by focusing on the basics.

In the provision of safe and efficient air navigation services, communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) form the core of those basics. That is why at NAV CANADA we continue to place much of our emphasis for improvements on these three areas.


Timely communications between air traffic services (ATS) personnel and pilots is essential for both safe and efficient air operations. By expanding the availability and type of communications, and by making them more effective, we have sought to improve safety through better service and reduced errors.

In 2004 we tackled the tough issue of frequency congestion on 126.7 MHz. Communications on this frequency—whose primary purpose was to facilitate air-to-air advisories between pilots in uncontrolled airspace—had become so congested in particular areas that the purpose of the frequency was compromised.

The solution was to take flight information service enroute (FISE), which can involve lengthy communications between the pilot and the flight service specialist, off of 126.7. We established a new network of additional frequencies which pilots could use to directly access our flight information centres (FIC).

We then added additional remote communications outlets (RCO) in areas where communications coverage was sparse, thus further improving access to essential information for pilots. Finally, we undertook pilot awareness efforts on good communications practices to reduce unnecessary communications and ensure the availability of any frequency when it was needed.

We have also made significant investments to improve communications in northern, remote, and oceanic areas. In 2007, we added 15 new VHF peripheral stations (PAL) in northern Canada to provide direct controller-pilot communications (DCPC), allowing reduced separation and faster response time to flight requests.

These sites were in addition to the long-range VHF PALs that were installed around Hudson Bay and in southern Greenland to support automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) operations.

Any discussion of advances in pilot-ATS communications would not be complete without reference to data link. Controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC) enables altitude and speed clearances, change requests and other related ATS information to be exchanged via direct text communication between controllers and pilots, resulting in fewer communication errors.

Common on the North Atlantic for years, NAV CANADA has now deployed CPDLC in domestic airspace in the Montréal and Edmonton flight information regions (FIR). We expect further expansion of this capability in the coming years, with associated safety and efficiency benefits.

The quality of our communications practices is another area where we have been proactive. The NAV CANADA-led ATS-Pilot Communications Working Group has actively sought to raise awareness of the risks of non-standard communications and the importance of active monitoring and accurate readbacks.

We are also trying to influence behaviour by encouraging pilots to request confirmation when a communication is unclear, or to indicate if they do not have in sight traffic that has been identified to them.

We will be taking further action on the issue of pilot-ATS communications by developing guidance material on good communication practices and standardized, common phraseology.


Satellite navigation is often referred to as the biggest game changer for aviation. There is no doubt that the proliferation of satellite navigation throughout the world is providing significant benefits to both customers and air navigation system providers.

It is becoming the cornerstone of enroute and terminal navigation and is a key enabler of the performance-based navigation (PBN) concept, which includes both area navigation (RNAV) and required navigation performance (RNP).

The improved aircraft navigation performance that stems from use of the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) also has a positive impact on safety and efficiency. Designing airways and instrument procedures without the limitation of ground-based navigational aids allows improved designs that increase airspace capacity, provide more flexibility and predictability, and allow more efficient flight profiles.

Satellite navigation has also enabled improved airport accessibility, resulting in fewer diversions, and has brought the safety benefits of straight-in instrument approaches with vertical guidance to airports where they were previously unavailable due to the lack of ground-based navigation infrastructure.

We are committed to expanding PBN in Canada, and we continue to work with our customers, Transport Canada, and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to implement PBN specifications where it makes sense to do so. In the future, equipage with GNSS may become mandatory in high traffic density terminal areas because of the efficiencies it brings to airspace management.


Surveillance is a key enabler to improving efficiency by enabling reduced separation standards to be employed, as compared to procedural airspace. That is why improving and expanding surveillance capability by using both existing and emerging technologies has been a focus of much of our capital investment in recent years. We have expanded radar coverage with the addition of seven new northern radars; we have expanded access to surveillance information by deploying auxiliary radar displays to flight service stations (FSS); and, we have introduced ADS-B—a cost-effective alternative to radar, but one that requires special aircraft equipage—in select areas where it will deliver clear benefits to our customers.

Further to this, multilateration has been deployed to provide infill surveillance for specific operating areas, as well as to improve surface surveillance at airports. We are also expanding our use of intelligent video surveillance and are excited about the potential of this technology as a cost-effective surface surveillance solution for many airports.

While our focus on expanding surveillance coverage in all areas is requiring our customers to be suitably equipped, the benefits far outweigh the cost of this equipage. The result is a measurable enhancement of both safety and efficiency.

In summary, NAV CANADA will continue to adopt new technologies and to modernize the air navigation system in collaboration with our people, our customers and our stakeholders.

In the past 15 years, a strong emphasis on the three core areas of communications, navigation and surveillance has been central to that work.

We look forward to finding ways to deliver even greater benefits for the safety and efficiency of the air traffic we manage by building on the innovations of the past 15 years.

John Crichton
President and CEO
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