Flight planning challenged
Flying weather information called into question by two

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 13/96) - The wife of missing Fort Smith pilot Gavin Edkins wants better weather information available to Northern pilots.

Sonia Edkins, whose husband went down in a Cessna 150 near Fort McMurray, Alta., last May, says satellite weather photographs taken the day of the crash show a storm approaching the area in which her husband disappeared.

"If he had that information, he would at least have had more to go on," said Edkins.

Bob Cameron, the operations manager for Trans North Helicopters out of Whitehorse, said that information is available.

But, he suggested the interpretation of the information may not be as good as it used to be.

Northern pilots used to get weather and related information from experts in Environment Canada offices. But over the last year those weather offices have been shutting down and airport flight services now supply the briefings.

Cameron said the ability to discuss and interpret weather data doesn't seem to be as good as it used to be, but satellite photographs and up-to-date weather information are available to pilots.

However, he also said flying has always been an inexact science in the North.

A spokesman with Transport Canada said he believes flight services personnel are just as good at interpreting the weather as Environment Canada.

"They take the same training course ... so, in all reality they should be providing the same quality of service," said Neil Greene.

He said Edkins was thoroughly briefed on weather conditions when he left Fort Smith en route to Fort McMurray, Alta.

"He would have been aware of the conditions he was flying into," said Greene. "However, we have no record of a request for an update in Fort McMurray."

Commercial aircraft operated by larger airlines fly under "instrument flight rules," fly above bad weather, and have in-house weather and weather updates available to them.

Smaller aircraft and private pilots who fly under "visual flight rules" fly through the weather and rely more heavily on the weather briefings.

Edkins' husband and his plane remain missing, and his chances of being alive after six months in the bush are next to nil.

"I just want to find the body now and give Gavin a decent burial," said Edkins.

After an exhaustive search this spring, search crews found no trace of 36-year-old Edkins.

The search for the Fort Smith town employee and father of two began May 19, after he failed to arrive in Red Deer.

He had taken the flight to log his remaining hours to qualify for a commercial pilot's licence.