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Airlines react to new safety rules

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 12, 2011

Private and commercial planes with six or more passenger seats will be required to be equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TWAS) if proposed regulations from Transport Canada becomes law, the federal transport minister announced on Dec. 2.

The system will significantly reduce the risk of plane crashes with land, water or other obstacles, stated Transport Minister Denis Lebel in a press release.

The system emits acoustic and visual alerts to flight crews when the path of their aircraft is predicted to collide with terrain, water or other obstacles, giving the crew enough time to take evasive action.

The proposed legislation would affect operators of smaller aircraft because those with large planes already have the system installed.

Three airline companies operating in the Arctic told Nunavut News/North they support the decision but one said the cost associated will be hard on the company's wallet.

Discovery Air, Calm Air and Keewatin Air are in different stages of installing TAWS.

At Keewatin Air, the system, already in 35 per cent of their aircrafts, will certainly increase safety but has a substantial cost associated with it, said company president and chief executive officer Wayne McLeod.

"I definitely wouldn't want to see us go against increasing safety. It's unfortunate the cost that's going to be imposed on the carriers," he said. "That's the bigger issue than enhancing safety."

It will cost $40,000 to $60,000 per plane, he said, and about seven planes in Keewatin's fleet will need them installed.

"It will be close to half a million dollars by the time it's done," said McLeod.

John Curran, the marketing manager at Discovery Air, said the company fully supports the decision.

"Any initiative that's going to enhance safety is something Air Tindi and Discovery Air definitely is behind 100 per cent," he said.

The Yellowknife-based company already started changing the avionics on its fleet of 22 aircrafts to accommodate TAWS, something he added they started before Transport Canada talked about making the change.

"We're in the middle of making a $2.2-million investment that, in part, installs those TAWS system on every plane we've got. Long before it becomes a law, we'll have it on there," said Curran.

The proposed regulation would not affect Calm Air. Vice-president of operations Craig Hoffman said TAWS is already installed on its aircrafts.

"We made a decision, from a safety standpoint, to do it to all of our aircrafts. Our entire fleet has had it for three years now," he said.

Hoffman could not pinpoint a situation where it has prevented an accident but stated it definitely is a benefit to have.

"It is another line of defence in the safety chain," he said. "It's sort of like buying insurance. You hope you never need it but you have the comfort it's there if it is required."

If the law is passed, airline companies would have two years to equip all their planes with TAWS, stated

the federal government.

The system is designed to avoid what is called controlled flights into terrain, a factor Transportation Safety Board investigators had told Nunavut News/North they would look into when an Air Tindi Cessna crashed into a cliff outside Lutsel K'e, NWT, last fall.

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