Aborted landings eroding customer confidence at Penticton Regional Airport | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Aborted landings eroding customer confidence at Penticton Regional Airport

October 23, 2019 - 5:30 PM

Penticton commercial air travellers are experiencing increasing frustration following recent restrictions on the airport’s runway by Transport Canada.

The implementation of a NOTAM (notice to airmen) at the airport of a shortening of the runway due to the exhaust stack at Greenwood Forest Products, located near the runway’s north end, has forced three WestJet flights from Calgary to return to that city, officially due to weather, since late September.

An Air Canada Jazz flight on Monday evening, Oct. 21, also returned to Vancouver without landing in Penticton, but that was due to a couple of factors, says Jazz spokesperson Debra Williams.

She said the flight was aborted due to “marginal weather at destination and also due to an indication light in the cockpit.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, the crew opted to return to Vancouver,” she said in an email.

But some residents aren't so sure about these explanations.

Peachland resident Nick Walsh says he doesn’t trust WestJet’s explanation of bad weather for the return to Calgary of flight 3267 during the evening of Oct. 13.

He was among several people at the airport that night, waiting to pick up his wife from the incoming flight.

He says several minutes after the plane was due to land, Penticton WestJet staff told those waiting they were trying to get the plane down, but were having problems.

“This was about a half hour after it was due to land. My mind started racing, I was wondering what the problem was, weather or landing gear?” he says.

After a security officer mentioned something about the weather, Walsh and another man went outside to find the moon shining brightly in a mostly clear sky.

“We could see for thousands of feet. I wondered what they were talking about so I went back and spoke to the woman.

“I said 'I could see the moon, that’s 230,700 miles. That’s a pretty high ceiling. I don’t get it,'” he said.

About 45 minutes after the plane was scheduled to land, it headed back to Calgary.

Walsh also asked why the flight wasn’t diverted to Kelowna, probably a more convenient option for everyone.

He says his "corporate instinct” told him it was because the airline would be obligated to find the passengers a way to Penticton at their cost.

"If they fly back to Calgary due to weather, they don't have to compensate passengers," he says.

He says he was annoyed but really lost it when he decided to phone WestJet after driving home.

“That’s when I found WestJet is a one-way communications ticket. There is no way you can talk to WestJet. You can book a flight, but you can’t ask a question they don’t want you to ask,” he says.

Walsh found out about the real problem after reading an INFOnews story about the runway restriction.

“That didn’t sit well with me, blaming it on weather so they don’t have to pay passenger’s expenses for the delay. It’s a real stretch blaming it on the weather,” he says.

“It’s frustrating and it diminishes my confidence in them. I can’t trust them,” Walsh says, adding he’ll pay more to fly with another carrier next time.

iNFOnews.ca tried to put his specific questions to WestJet communications but they were ignored. 

WestJet flights from Calgary to Penticton were also aborted on Sept. 27 and Oct. 3.

WestJet public relations advisor Morgan Bell said in an email issued today, Oct. 23 it has completed more than 95 per cent of its planned departures, but failed to mention how many landings have been aborted since Transport Canada issued the NOTAM on June 6.

He did not say whether the airline was fielding more complaints from their Penticton operations.

“With safety as our top priority, we make operational decisions in the best interest of guests across our network, unfortunately, unscheduled landings require support that may not be readily available to us like it is in our home hub of Calgary,” Bell said.

He didn’t elaborate as to what that support entailed, or under what terms passengers are compensated.

Bell said the NOTAM was issued to ensure safe operation of all aircraft operating in Penticton. He said WestJet was committed to working alongside its partners at the Penticton Airport and Transport Canada as they work on resolving the matter.

Transport Canada senior media relations advisor Simon Rivet said in an email sent this afternoon airlines using the Penticton Airport must operate in accordance with Canadian Aviation Regulations. He said the Greenwood exhaust stack, at 21.6 metres high, (70.7 feet) is  2.98 metres (9.57 feet) above the minimum take-off and approach surface requirement for Penticton’s runway.

“Transport Canada is working on a long-term solution,” Rivet said in the email.

He did not provide a time frame.

Rivet says Transport Canada is unaware exactly how long the exhaust system has been in service, but the mill itself has been located there for several decades.

He says the issue was raised during a recent audit and Transport Canada "took immediate action."

Transport Canada’s short term solution was to effectively shorten the 6,000 foot length of the runway by displacing the threshold by nearly 500 feet, impacting navigational aids that affect night time and poor weather flights.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to tips@infonews.ca and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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