Comox resident Geoff Russell was unimpressed when his family couldn’t fly out of the Comox Valley Airport for two days on the weekend — and stranded passengers will likely be more common this fall and winter.
“The weather was no worse Friday night, all day Saturday, than it is on many, many occasions,” Russell told the Record. “I was quite annoyed at the time and it certainly created a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people.
“We were all told it was weather-related, and it was no different to a normal winter’s day in the Valley.”
Russell’s son, daughter-in-law and their two small children, were scheduled to catch a WestJet flight to Calgary Friday evening. The plane was unable to land, and returned to Calgary. The family tried to leave again Saturday to no avail. Russell drove them to Victoria early Sunday morning so they could catch a flight.
A number of flights were rerouted or cancelled Friday and Saturday and again Monday.
Comox Valley Airport CEO Fred Bigelow agreed the weather wasn’t unusual for the Comox Valley, and noted he’s concerned about further flight landing problems this fall and winter.
“The weather certainly isn’t unusual; what’s unusual right now is with the instrument approaches to the runways,” said Bigelow. “There are restrictions right now on the instrument approaches, which preclude aircraft from descending as low as they normally would.
“These higher minima will pose challenges for the operators coming in and out of Comox, and it’s a concern for us for sure as we approach the winter season.
“We will expect more problems than we would otherwise have because of these higher approach limits.”
Col. Jim Benninger, wing commander for 19 Wing Comox, which is in charge of airport operations, said two issues are causing the higher approach limits; one is the height of some trees around the airport — which is an ongoing issue — and the other is some work on the runway.
“We have the issue with the over-height obstacles, the natural growth in the area, which has caused an elevation of the minimum altitude to which pilots can descend before they have to look out the window and see if they can see the airport or not,” he explained, adding the work on runway improvements has shortened the main runway from 10,000 to 7,000 feet.
“The net result of both of them raises the height of the decision altitude to 500 feet (from 200 feet).”
He added if pilots can’t see out of the aircraft at the decision altitude height due to lower cloud, or any other factors, they won’t land on that approach. They can try again from a slightly different approach or detour to another airport.
According to Benninger, the runway work is expected to last until the end of March. Tree remediation is not scheduled to be complete until December 2013 due to environmental considerations. Great Blue Herons and eagles live in some of the trees so the base is conferring with the Canadian Wildlife Service and Environment Canada to ensure the birds are disturbed as little as possible.
The altitude at which pilots must decide whether or not to land at should go back to 200 feet once all the work is complete.
For details on flight arrivals and departures, visit www.comoxairport.com.
— With files from CTV Vancouver Island