Aircraft-based nav system could help improve commercial air service reliability at Penticton Airport - InfoNews

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Aircraft-based nav system could help improve commercial air service reliability at Penticton Airport

FILE PHOTO - A passenger disembarks from a WestJet flight at the Penticton Regional Airport.
April 20, 2018 - 3:11 PM

PENTICTON - With more than $6 million in airport improvements planned for Penticton Regional Airport in the works, frequent and not-so-frequent flyers can soon expect to have a modern, up-to-date facility serving the South Okanagan.

However, that is of little use when flights can’t get in or out of the airport due to weather issues.

Cancelled flight statistics are not kept by Transport Canada — and individual airlines are tight-lipped when it comes to recounting such stats — but anecdotal evidence points to a difficult year for Penticton’s two commercial carriers as far as flight cancellations due to some unusually poor weather conditions this winter.

A possible solution to the frustrating issue of weather-related flight cancellations may come from a new form of navigation technology that doesn’t involve expensive investments in ground based navigation systems. However, it will take a willingness on the part of the airport’s commercial carriers to invest in the equipment and training to qualify for use of the new system.

Required Navigation Performance, or RNP, is an advanced form of GPS navigation that revolutionizes the way instrument approaches are designed and carried out. It won’t eliminate flight cancellations, but it will lower the allowed ceiling levels for take-offs and landings at Penticton Regional Airport.

John Michael Fleming with Nav Canada says RNP does not rely on ground-based equipment, but it's relatively new and only a few Canadian national operators are authorized to use it. He says RNP procedures have been established at Kelowna and Vancouver.

WestJet Encore media representative Lauren Stewart says WestJet uses RNAV (GPS-based) approaches to Penticton, but due to the airport’s close proximity to mountainous terrain, there is only one approach that is beneficial in poor weather conditions. She says Nav Canada is in the process of designing additional approaches that utilize RNP and she hopes that means more completed flights.

“WestJet Encore is the only Canadian operator with Required Navigation Performance approach capability on the Bombardier Q400 and all our pilots are RNP trained. We understand it can be frustrating when flights are cancelled due to weather in the area but we always operate with safety in mind," Stewart says. "We look forward to working with our partner, Nav Canada, to develop these new approaches over the next few years."

Air Canada media spokesperson Angela Mah says the company sees “no foreseeable change in aircraft” to be operated on by the Jazz brand on the three, daily 50-seat Dash 8 aircraft flights in and out of Penticton.

“It is the right-sized plane for the Penticton market,” she says.

"Winter operations can be impacted by weather operating limits at origin or destination airports, and by other factors such as hub airports imposing a limit on the number of aircraft able to take-off for safety reasons," Mah says. "We have robust recovery plans throughout our network which includes rescheduling flights and/or planning alternate flights to get our customers safely to their destinations. Jazz has on occasion, also deployed a Q400 on this route for various reasons including for rescheduled flights affected by weather.”

Mah says comparisons to other airlines flying different routes can’t be made as Air Canada Jazz is the only carrier between Penticton and Vancouver.

It is possible for the aircraft to be retrofitted to the new technology, trade magazine Aviation Week said in a January 2015 article, but a recent column by South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Dick Cannings noted Air Canada has plans to phase out its Dash 8 fleet over the next five years, adding Penticton needs to convince the route planning office of Air Canada the Q 400 aircraft would be a good match for their airport.

“South Okanagan government officials are considering presenting Air Canada with data showing the benefit of bringing the new planes to Penticton,” Cannings wrote, noting air travellers are keen to see changes brought in to the Penticton airport.

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 the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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