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COPA Corner: Neighbourhood Watch Ten Years Later

by Kevin Psutka, COPA President and CEO

A lot of air has passed over the wings of General Aviation (GA) aircraft since 9/11 and that is a good thing considering how our freedom was so quickly taken away from us on that fateful day.

Common sense eventually prevailed and we were permitted to fly again. Although no terrorist threat using a GA aircraft has occurred in Canada since then, it does not mean that we can let down our guard.

At this ten-year point it helps to emphasize where this issue has gone and where it will likely go as well as refresh ourselves on measures we should continue to employ.

In my COPA Flight article in January 2002 (also reprinted in Aviation Safety Letter 3/2002) I introduced the concept of a neighbourhood watch for aircraft and airports that consists of common sense measures that everyone involved in GA should be incorporating into our daily activities at airports.

They include control of ignition keys, better supervision of students, sign-out procedures, establishing positive identification of all renters and students, having parents or guardians co-sign for teen students before they take flying lessons, improved securing of unattended aircraft, placing prominent signs near areas of public access warning against tampering with or unauthorized use of aircraft, posting emergency telephone numbers so that people may report suspicious activity such as transient aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications, persons loitering for extended periods in the vicinity of parked aircraft or in pilot lounges, pilots who appear to be under the control of another person, persons wishing to rent aircraft without presenting proper credentials or identification, persons who present apparently valid credentials but who do not display a corresponding level of aviation knowledge, any pilot who makes threats or statements inconsistent with normal uses or aircraft or events or circumstances that do not fit the pattern of lawful, normal activity at an airport.

All of these recommendations from 2002 remain relevant today. The security regulatory effort has been concentrated on airlines and their passengers and more recently on cargo and other commercial operations. COPA has been involved in virtually all regulatory meetings and on occasions when GA has been brought up for discussion, we have reminded proponents of increasing security for our sector that the nature of our sector is such that it would be very difficult if not impossible to impose airline-like measures on our sector.

A more practical approach involving awareness, education and voluntary measures is the way to go. GA security enhancements have already occurred in these past ten years. The first and perhaps most onerous was the introduction of no-fly zones around significant events such as G8, G20, Olympics and dignitary visitors and permanent no-fly zones are in place around the Parliament buildings and Governor General’s residence in Ottawa.

There is a warning in section RAC 2.9.3 of the Transport Canada Aeronautical Information Manual (TC AIM) that circling nuclear power installations may result in interception. Our licences have transitioned to tamper-resistant photo ID passport-like booklets. Access to sterile areas in and around terminal buildings has become more difficult for our sector and security measures for accessing GA ramp areas at airports have been increased at all airports.

There have been a few security incidents in the past ten years, such as the mentally ill person in Thunder Bay who stole a 172 and flew to the USA expecting to be shot down and incursions into restricted airspace because of pilot error, but the use of small aircraft as a terrorist weapon has not occurred in Canada.

So, do we need additional measures? That has been a matter of debate in recent months as Transport Canada (TC) has turned its attention to GA. Through COPA’s efforts over the years, the government is at least sensitive to the difficulty in enhancing security measures as reflected in this statement from Transport Canada’s Aviation Security Web site :

“Transport Canada is continuing to examine what oversight and measures are needed to appropriately address the risk within general aviation and FBO operations, working with the general aviation community. At the same time, Transport Canada acknowledges that any regulation of the general aviation sector will need to be appropriate to the level of risk, while also ensuring that the economic viability of the industry and comparability to our international partners is maintained.”

The key word here is “risk” and that has become the focus of the GA Security Working Group on which COPA participates. The group is working its way through assessing the risk and developing mitigation measures that achieve not only enhanced security but also recognize the need to make them practical, affordable and not out of line with other nations.

As we work our way through the risk process, it is very important that we all remain vigilant. A security threat, perceived or real, involving a GA aircraft would not help our cause at all. It is far too easy to knee-jerk in response to an event, resulting in significant and permanent restrictions or prohibitions to our freedom to fly.

The best thing we all can do is to continue to employ the neighbourhood watch program that COPA suggested in 2002. If you don’t think you need to do anything, just think back to September 2001 when our freedom to fly was suddenly and completely taken away. It returned gradually but to this day has not entirely returned to pre-9/11 levels.

For more information on COPA, visit

Class E and G Airspace


by the Safety Management Planning and Analysis Division, NAV CANADA

Over the years, the two-way radio has become an important piece of safety equipment for many pilots, regardless of the airspace they frequent. NAV CANADA offers a number of in-flight services in Class G and Class E airspace; all available via two-way radio.

While operating in Class G airspace, pilots can obtain flight information, aviation weather, and emergency assistance services using the Remote Communication Outlet (RCO) network.

In-flight information requests often include NOTAM and runway surface condition reports which may have been posted since the pilot received their pre-flight briefing. In-flight weather reports available to pilots include: significant meteorological information (SIGMET), weather advisories (AIRMET), pilot weather report (PIREP), aerodrome forecast (TAF) and aviation routine weather reports (METAR). Other valuable information to assist pilots in decision making includes: aviation selected special weather reports (SPECI), weather radar and lightning information.

During hours of darkness, or whenever visibility is reduced, understanding changes to the en-route weather allows a pilot to modify their plan(s) early on. For pilots who do not have real-time weather radar or electronic text updates available in the cockpit, obtaining a weather update while in-flight can often be a valuable resource. A pilot can also use their two-way radio to submit a PIREP, an en-route position report (including updated arrival and departure times), or any revised flight plan or flight itinerary information.

When operating in Class E controlled airspace, pilots operating under visual flight rules (VFR) can obtain the same services as in Class G with the addition of the requirement to obtain special-VFR authorization in Class E control zones under certain weather conditions. When operating in Class E airspace, the RCO network can be used to relay any necessary requests for an Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance through a flight service specialist.

Unless the airspace has been designated as transponder required, there are no special requirements to operate under VFR in Class E airspace, although VFR operating weather minima is increased. Pilots remain responsible for avoidance of traffic in Class E airspace, and separation is provided only to aircraft operating under instrument flight rules (IFR). While VFR-over-the-top flights must operate under the appropriate regulations, there have been cases where pilots have required an urgent descent through clouds, to land ahead of schedule. Coordination with ATC can assure that there would be no conflicts with IFR aircraft in the Class E airspace.

A two-way radio can also be used to file, amend or close a flight plan or flight itinerary which was filed with NAV CANADA. The flight plan is one of the most inexpensive insurance policies that most pilots will ever take advantage of. In cases where a pilot cannot access the RCO network via their two-way radio, a phone call can be used to update a departure time on a flight plan or to file an arrival report. In cases where pilots arrive at their destination beyond the expiration of the estimated en-route time they last updated, NAV CANADA first initiates a communication search to determine if the aircraft landed safely. Adding a cell phone number to the emergency contact field on the flight plan can reduce the chance of an unnecessary search being initiated—peace of mind all around.

In Need of a Class E & G Airspace Refresher?

(from TC AIM RAC 2.8.5 and 2.8.7)

Diagram of Terminal control area

Terminal Control Area diagram taken from
TC AIM RAC 2.7.6.)

Class E Airspace

Class E airspace is designated where an operational need exists for controlled airspace but does not meet the requirements for Class A, B, C, or D. 

Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation is provided only to aircraft operating under IFR. There are no special requirements for VFR.

Aircraft are required to be equipped with a transponder and automatic pressure altitude equipment to operate in Class E airspace that is specified as transponder airspace (see RAC 1.9.2).

Low-level airways, control area extensions, transition areas, or control zones established without an operating control tower may be classified as Class E airspace.

Class G Airspace

Class G airspace is airspace that has not been designated Class A, B, C, D, E or F, and within which ATC has neither the authority nor the responsibility to exercise control over air traffic.

However, ATS units do provide flight information and alerting services. The alerting service will automatically alert SAR authorities once an aircraft becomes overdue, which is normally determined from data contained in the flight plan or flight itinerary.

In effect, Class G is all uncontrolled domestic airspace.

Low-level air routes are contained within Class G airspace. They are basically the same as a low-level airway, except that they extend upwards from the surface of the earth and are not controlled. The lateral dimensions are identical to those of a low-level airway (see RAC 2.7.1).

Spring Is Upon Us! An Update on the Floatplane Operators Association of British Columbia

by St.Clair McColl, President, Floatplane Operators Association of British Columbia

Floatplane Operators Association (FOA) logo

The recent growth of the Floatplane Operators Association of British Columbia (FOA) has been exciting, to say the least. We have seen our membership grow steadily to 29 members, 19 of which are operators and 10 of which are associate members within the industry. To these individuals and companies, I wish to extend my thanks and congratulations for supporting the FOA in its first year.

To date, our board has been busy. They have continued to be energized and focused on developing the Association as an organization that promotes and fosters commercial floatplane safety. I for one admit that this is not an easy task, and I must once again express my heartfelt gratitude to the group of volunteer board members for all their time and hard work.

Our mandate, if you recall, is “to establish best practices, together with a consistent culture of safety across the industry”. In our initial focus group, we quickly realized that if we work independently and in isolation as individuals and companies, we cannot achieve our goal to have a consistent culture of safety across the industry. Therefore, the FOA has been working hard on the “together” part by constantly soliciting new members and getting the Association involved in a host of different activities. Lyle Soetaert, our former President, expressed in an earlier update that “we have made valuable inroads and connections as well as spoken with a common voice in the following organizations:

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-Transport Canada (TC) Cross Border Aviation Summit;
  • Civil Aviation Safety Officers Partnership; and
  • ATAC - Special Flight Operations Committee regarding Flight Duty Times and Fatigue Management.”

As our membership grew, we gained further acknowledgement from different agencies that now give credence and weight to our opinion. In the summer and fall of 2011, the FOA arranged for its members to take part in a national survey conducted by the federal government, which assessed the need to staff the lighthouses on our coasts. In March 2011, a Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was asked to conduct a tour and fact-finding mission on the future of lighthouses in Canada. The resulting report was entitled Seeing the Light: Report on Staffed Lighthouses in Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia. The FOA members gathered in the various communities along the coast of British Columbia, where these fact-finding missions were taking place. It was at these events that we spoke with one loud voice, maintaining that the floatplane operators of British Columbia find immeasurable value in safety by keeping the lighthouses manned. I can proudly say that in lending our voice, the FOA assisted other agencies, such as the B.C. Aviation Council, and communities all along the coast in convincing the Senate Committee to make five recommendations to keep the lighthouses manned.

To view the report and recommendations, please go to

In the spring, one of our founding associate members, Viking Air, offered a discount on parts to all members of the FOA. To encourage the further enhancement of safety, Viking Air also offered FOA members financial aid when purchasing DHC-2 safety modifications. Another associate member, Jouta Performance Group, has also offered a discount to FOA members in human resources support. Thank you, Jouta and Viking Air!

In mid-summer, the Medallion Foundation of Alaska made a presentation to the FOA board. The Medallion Foundation, like the FOA, is a non-profit organization promoting aviation safety through systems enhancement by providing management resources, training, and support to the aviation community. The Medallion Foundation told us that they are keen to assist British Columbia carriers as a group or as individuals. Our board was impressed and encouraged by their presentation. We were given many ideas as to where we can best lend our support. Some examples of this support are education and advocacy.

As the summer got busy, the board had to step back and take a break in August. It was at that point that Lyle Soetaert resigned from his position as President so that he could pursue a career in Airport Management at the Boundary Bay Airport. We at the board acknowledge all the time and hard work Lyle put into the Association to get it going. We wish him all the best and encourage him to come by sometime and get his feet wet again.

In the summer of 2011, TC invited the FOA to participate in a focus group in September to assess TC’s response to the Transportation Safety Board’s (TSB) recommendations that came out of the investigation of the Lyall Harbour, Saturna Island Accident of November 2009. This was a first! The FOA was impressed and encouraged to be included in discussions with TC at such an early stage. The focus group gathered, disseminated and discussed all the pertinent information alongside TC. Our voice was heard. We supported the recommendations, and we felt we had some valuable input in the group.

One of the major points that the FOA is focusing on today is webcams. Throughout the fall and winter of 2011–12, the board has been strongly urging NAV CANADA to install more weather observation webcams and to make the ones that are currently installed more functional. In the spring of 2012, the FOA hopes to be able to host their own webcam at the mouth of the middle arm of the Fraser River, close to the water aerodrome CAM9.

As we are a volunteer board that is striving to establish best practices, we have hired an administrative assistant, who will be calling on you shortly to join what we would like to become a national voice for floatplane safety.

On April 17, 2012, the FOA hosted a one-day workshop in cooperation with Viking Air at their All Operators Forum. Again, we believe that the information that we share and the connections we make during these events will only enhance the safety in our industry. Our board, members, operators and associates, as well as the industry as a whole, strive to make commercial seaplane travel the safest it can be. Safety requires constant diligence from all participants in order to continually improve the product that we deliver to our customers. 

For further information on the FOA, please visit our Web site at

You may also contact us by mail at:

Floatplane Operators Association of British Columbia
PO Box 32325
YVR Domestic Terminal RPO
Richmond BC V7B 1W2

Help Reduce False Alarms

by Capt. Jean Houde, Joint Rescue Coordination Centre coordinator, Trenton, Ontario

At 18:30, Big Air flight 1203 reports hearing an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) on 121.5 MHz, fading away at FL370 over La Tuque, Que. The area control centre (ACC) contacts the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Trenton with details, along with other high flyer reports. The aeronautical coordinator on duty starts calling every airport within this massive reception area, which extends 183 NM in any direction from the high flyer position. The aeronautical coordinator inquires about possibly overdue VFR and IFR aircraft in the area, investigates any open flight plans, and searches for lower altitude traffic hoping to reduce the size of the search area. A weather check reveals low ceiling and poor visibility in the area. Time is passing by, someone could be in distress. Should we launch an aircraft or continue investigating the source via other means? What if the signal stops abruptly and no one else is receiving it? Has the device been intentionally turned off or have the batteries failed?

This is a common dilemma each time a 121.5 MHz signal is detected. JRCC Trenton’s area of responsibility covers from the B.C.–Alta. border to Quebec City, east–west, and from the Canada–U.S. border to the North Pole, north–south. Needless to say, it is vast.

Since the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system no longer monitors 121.5 MHz, there is no satellite position available. Using communications searching, JRCC can investigate a signal like this for a maximum of 2 hr, after which a search and rescue (SAR) aircraft, most likely military, must be tasked. If there is other corroborating evidence, such as an actual overdue aircraft in the area, an SAR asset will be launched earlier.

The selection of a fixed-wing or rotary-wing resource depends on the travel distance, weather in area, and platform capabilities. A crew is paged, the aircraft commander is briefed on mission details, the aircraft is prepared and fuelled, and a crew briefing is completed before everyone runs to the aircraft. Following this, the mighty C130 Hercules, all-weather VFR and IFR, is dispatched from Trenton to investigate. The signal is picked up and the homing commences from high altitude, descending in the process to pinpoint the signal. Finally, breaking into VMC conditions at minimum IFR altitude over the hills, the homing continues until a floatplane is sighted, gently resting dockside by a cabin. After a few low passes over the aircraft, someone is observed running from the cabin into the aircraft and suddenly the ELT signal ceases. With this SAR case closed, the aircraft returns to base after having flown 3 hr and upwards of 15 personnel having been involved in the investigation of this SAR case.

The consumption of valuable and costly aircraft hours, putting the crew in peril unnecessarily, and greatly impeding the availability of precious assets for responding to real distress situations is a typical situation at the JRCC. All ELT activations on 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz are investigated until the source is located or the signal ceases, untraced. JRCC Trenton handles over 3 000 incidents each year, both marine and air. The majority of air cases are false alarms due to accidental activations. JRCC sends an unnecessary SAR alerts (UNSAR) to Transport Canada (TC) whenever a careless activation results in excessive person-hours to solve a case, or if a resource was dispatched, TC then contacts the owner to explain the impact associated with an accidental activation and keeps a database of recurring offenders.

To prevent wasting valuable resources, flyers should listen to 121.5 MHz before shutting down the aircraft after a flight, or anytime maintenance is done on or near the beacon. An even better solution is to replace the aging 121.5 MHz beacon with a newer, digitally encoded SARSAT-monitored 406 MHz beacon. 406 MHz false alerts are usually resolved with a few phone calls, since a properly registered beacon contains several emergency contact numbers.

Should you ever notice that your ELT is transmitting, please contact your nearest flight service station (FSS) or JRCC immediately and advise them of the situation. Rest assured that someone is already working on your case and there may be aircraft searching for you. Help us reduce false alarms and allow us to concentrate on actual distress situations so that resources are not wasted on futile missions. Someday, you or your family members may be in real trouble and require our assistance. We want to ensure that we have the SAR resources available to respond to your needs!

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