Runway safety concerns overblown

The runway at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport is safe, according to officials. The NDP Opposition raised questions this week about potential safety concerns. 

The runway at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport is safe, according to officials.

The NDP Opposition raised questions this week about potential safety concerns.

“I don’t know where (NDP MLA Lois) Moorcroft is getting her information, but she’s misinformed,” said Allan Nixon, assistant deputy minister with Highways and Public Works.

“People can relax. The airport is quite safe.”

His reassurance was echoed by Joe Sparling, president of Air North.

“The runway here at Whitehorse is perfectly safe. We wouldn’t be operating if it wasn’t.”

Staff measure the runway friction index on the surface several times per day, said Nixon.

Under perfect dry conditions, the index is 0.5.

Highways aims to keep it above 0.4, but snow and ice can pose a challenge.

Moorcroft noted that on April 25, the index was measured at 0.27.

But that was during a “significant heavy wet snowfall event,” said Nixon.

Within a couple hours, Highways crews had the rating back up to 0.48 despite the snow, he said.

“There were no planes delayed, there was no safety issue, there were no flights cancelled.”

Staff report the friction index to navigation officials, who report it to pilots. It is ultimately up to the pilot and the airline to decide if they feel it is safe to take off or land.

“Airports across Canada have bad weather, and we deal with it as best we can,” said Nixon.

The NDP has also asked why the glide path indicator, which helps planes land in the dark, was not moved when the runway was extended.

The lengthened runway allowed larger planes, such as the Condor, to land. But since Condor service is only during summer months, the planes only land during daylight hours and do not use the glide path indicator, said Nixon.

That equipment is owned by Nav Canada, a private contractor that provides air navigation services across the country.

The possibility of moving the glide path indicator this summer along with other upgrades is being discussed, said Nixon.

The NDP also presented an incident report, where freshly applied tar from the runway ended up on the landing equipment of a plane.

The tarring vehicles left the runway eight minutes before the plane landed.

It wouldn’t have been a problem if the tar had been heated to a higher temperature, and had therefore set more quickly, said Nixon.

The workers followed the guidelines available at the time, but those guidelines have since been upgraded to avoid a further incident, he said.

“It’s lessons learned, right? You make changes.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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