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Lights go out at Holman airport

Hamlet lost its backup generators this summer

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Holman (Dec 17/01) - The Holman airport will now be equipped with battery-operated radios for emergency use, after a power outage caused some momentary confusion on the runway Dec. 3.

The power outage shut down the runway lights and radio communications minutes before a First Air plane was coming in for landing.

Mayor Gary Bristow, who also works as the First Air base manager, says ground staff couldn't contact the pilot, so they weren't sure if he was going to come in for a landing.

As it turned out, the pilot circled three times before making a safe landing. Because the flight was a midday arrival, visibility was not a problem, but had it occurred at night, the plane would have had to turn back.

Airport staff are supposed to light the runway with flares when the power goes out, but there wasn't enough time to complete the task, which can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour.

Bristow, says he's glad to get the radios but he'd prefer to have backup power. "I don't think we're going to get anything much better. We'll take what we can get."

The airport had backup generators until the summer when the Department of Transportation upgraded the lighting system and decommissioned the old generator.

In order to get the generators back, the hamlet would have to buy one and pay to maintain it. The Department of Transportation has been decommissioning old generators for several years now, says Jim Winsor, director of airports for the territorial government. Winsor says the old generators were reaching the end of their lifespan and becoming too expensive to maintain.

We don't have backup power at most of our airports, and in fact, the requirement from Transport Canada is for backup power units only at Yellowknife, Inuvik and Hay River, where they have instrument landing systems -- which provides a level of automated guidance to aircraft."

Winsor says regulations require planes to carry enough fuel to fly to an alternate airport in the event that a power outage or other problem prevents landing at the destination airport.