Managing airspace an ‘exciting challenge’ for Snowbird 10

With military, commercial and private planes sharing the airspace over the Comox Valley, it’s the job of Snowbird 10 – Capt. Blake McNaughton – to ensure the safety of all his pilots.

In his third year with the Canadian Forces Snowbird team, McNaughton holds the advance and safety pilot position, meaning he is responsible for making sure everything the team does in the air is safe and effective for audiences watching from the ground.

“We manage risk as much as possible and what we’re doing for the Canadian public – the performance we’re putting on – is amazing for them.”

Prior to shows, McNaughton – who arrived with the team for their annual practice in the Comox Valley Wednesday – sets up notices to airmen, restricts airspace, works with scheduled air carriers to ensure “the airspace is sterile and sanitized to make sure we’re doing our performances in the safest possible manner.”

While the weather in the Valley has restricted some practices for the team, McNaughton remains optimistic about his team’s practices in the area.

“Yes – sometimes Comox has challenging weather, but so does everywhere else over North America. We use it as part of our training to flex and do different types of shows or modify our shows slightly to adjust to get the training in we need,” he explained.

“Coming to Comox is a critical part of our pre-deployment training. We’re coming in here, we’re working out some of the kinks in our operation. Most importantly we’re to perform over different environments … and getting our unit ready to go for the show season.”

McNaughton said when the weather does improve, residents should be able to see the team practise twice a day, along with the CF-18 demonstration Hornet. While there is a temptation for private pilots to take to the air, he encourages them to check their notices to airmen – particularly if they are flying out of the Courtenay Airpark.

“It is within their restricted airspace, and we ask for the short period of time that we’re practising that they can stay on the ground and watch from there. It’s an exciting challenge. We’re just trying to get the word out so people know what we’re doing here and so they’re not surprised. We don’t want anyone to get shocked that we’re doing our practices here for the next couple of weeks.”

Morris Perrey, president of the Courtenay Airpark said all pilots check NOTAMs – notice to airmen, which are filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route – prior to flying.

“It’s definitely not something where you just get in your plane and take off,” he noted.

McNaughton explained his job working with civilian aircraft is “an exciting challenge – most people are huge supporters of the military, the Snowbirds and airshows in general; they go out of the way and help us achieve our mission.”

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