A face rarely seen
Flight service specialists perform vital role

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (Jan 27/99) - They're not the type of people the average "Joe Traveller" spends a whole lot of time thinking about -- in fact, probably never.

They sit in their glass-cased booths high above runways that link Northern communities to the rest of the country and watch an endless stream of humanity soar above the clouds in great metallic birds of all sizes and colours. And, they sit and watch protectively as those who would conquer the heavens return.

Their voices, which constantly fill the airwaves with necessary information, are rarely heard beyond the realm of those possessing the knowledge to navigate the skies. They are flight service specialists (FSS) and their contributions to air travel are often as unheralded as they are vital.

Bob Cymbalisty is a FSS who has been in Rankin Inlet since September, 1997. He's been employed with NAVCAN for about six years since completing his training in Cornwall, Ont., and has watched over travellers from towers in Brandon, Regina and Thompson before coming to the Keewatin.

"I have found Rankin to be a fantastic community, both my wife, Paula, and I enjoy it here immensely," says Cymbalisty. "We've had nothing but good times and made friends virtually from the day we landed."

Cymbalisty says in Rankin, FSS encompasses the duties of an advisory service, all in-flight information, vehicle control, weather briefing and observing service, alerting service for flights in progress and initiating search and rescue in the event they're needed and a variety of other services.

"Local knowledge takes a while to develop, especially here in such close proximity to Hudson's Bay. By local knowledge, I mean flying conditions, companies that work around the airport, those responsible for maintaining the runway and different community groups. I've never been anywhere where we were as involved with the community as we are in Rankin."

Cymbalisty says, from what he's observed from his Rankin tower, you see a hearty type of traveller coming to the Keewatin.

"You see people coming up here for a purpose. They could do wonders here if it was activated as more of a tourist destination, but I think that's yet to take place. Maybe it will happen after Nunavut comes to pass. I would recommend it highly and I'll be bringing all my friends from the south up here to see it. It's just too beautiful to pass up."

Although behind the scenes, Cymbalisty says he doesn't feel FSS members are taken for granted. He says those in the know -- pilots, flight attendants, airlines -- all recognize what they do and that they are an important "cog in the wheel."

"Maybe George Public tends not to see us because we're not a high profile job like a pilot or the movie persona made out to be an air traffic controller, but we all know the job we do is important.

"If you want to take a hockey analogy, we're the grinders or the pluggers. We go into the corners and muck it out. We get things done. Granted, we might not put the puck in the net all the time, but, without us, it would be difficult for the system to run as smoothly as it does."