Out of touch with North
Air carries question regulations

by Mark Sproxton
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 28/97) - It's an edict that evokes memories of Ottawa's recent abortive attempt to outlaw unpasteurized cheese. Minor safety concerns simply can't match the power of culture, tradition, and economics.

A new ruling from Transport Canada forbids airlines from carrying passengers and "external loads," including canoes or kayaks, at the same time.

The ruling has enraged Northern pilots and air carriers, many of whom rely on flying tourists and fishers -- and their boats -- to remote areas for a major portion of their business. And they hope to overturn the regulation just as Quebec cheese-lovers did with last year's Health Canada move.

Northern Air Transportation Association executive director Don Douglas said it makes little sense to force pilots to fly in the boats and then go back to bring the passengers in separately.

"The North is a unique place. You have to know it to understand it," Douglas said. "It would be disastrous if that rule stayed."

The Transport Canada regulation states that passengers and external loads can only be carried when a special certificate has been obtained.

"No one is quite sure of the rationale, but where the government got the regulation from is apparently the U.S.," said Ian Brady, chief pilot with Deh Cho Air Ltd.

"However, they grant exemptions to Alaska. There are no exemptions in Canada."

Some companies and organizations have been able to negotiate special permits to simultaneously carry passengers and external cargo, he added.

But right now the issue is somewhat up in the air for the North.

"It certainly could have a major impact on a lot of operators," Brady said.

Douglas said NATA is making headway with air regulators in Ottawa on this one. If canoes or kayaks are tied down properly, it is not a dangerous thing to do, he said.

Officials with Transport Canada in Yellowknife referred all requests for an interview to a Winnipeg office, but no officials in either Winnipeg or Ottawa were unavailable last week to explain the rationale behind the regulation.