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Charges laid in flight incident

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 17, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Stephen Waugh, 28, of Fort Simpson, has been charged with mischief and endangering the safety of an aircraft relating to a mid-air incident that occurred on Nov. 6.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Stephen Waugh, 28, of Fort Simpson has been charged with mischief and endangering an aircraft after a mid-air incident, Nov. 6 on a flight from Fort Simpson to Yellowknife. - NNSL file photo

On that day, according to police, a man who had been drinking alcohol during a flight to Yellowknife from Fort Simpson, made his way into the cockpit of a Summit Air Dornier-228 turboprop aircraft and punched the pilot in the arm. Police say the man proceeded to harass and threaten the flight crew as they attempted to land the plane at Yellowknife Airport. The plane was carrying nine passengers and two crew.

Steve Tanton, operations manager with Summit Air, said the company is currently reviewing its passenger screening policies but added no changes had yet been made.

Summit Air does not serve alcohol on flights, he said. Airport officials told News/North a mickey containing alcohol was found on the plane. Tanton said incidents like this are rare.

He said, however, the potential for people getting intoxicated and unruly on flights is always there.

"You talk to pretty much any pilot and they've dealt with it at some point in their career," he said.

Tanton said the company would not be able to close the doors to the cockpit on the Dornier-228 aircraft.

The aircraft is "manufactured with an open door and Transport Canada regulations stipulate that the pilots have to have access to the passengers," he said.

Tanton added it was not viable financially to start equipping each plane with a flight attendant. Passengers on flights out of unsecured airports do not have to be screened before boarding planes.

Teri Arychuk, vice-president of operations with Air Tindi, said the company has a zero-tolerance policy for intoxicated passengers.

"If somebody shows up at the counter intoxicated, they do not fly."

Arychuk said Air Tindi does not screen passengers before boarding flights but passengers are told not to bring alcohol on board with them. Air Tindi does not serve alcohol on flights either.

Air Tindi also does not have flight attendants on board for flights under 19 passengers.

Currently in Canada, there are 89 airports where Canadian Air Transport Security Authority personnel conduct pre-boarding and passenger screening.

The traffic in and out of these airports represents 99 per cent of air travelling passengers in Canada, said Maryse Durette, a spokesperson with Transport Canada.

"Why do you screen when I go south, but not when I go North?" is a question Durette hears constantly.

She said the security designations were based upon 1995 traffic thresholds and do not take geographical location into consideration.

Of the 89 designated airports in Canada, Yellowknife is the only one in the NWT.

Durette said a review is currently being undertaken on which airports in Canada should receive the security designations.

She also added new Transport Canada regulations - anticipated to become law in early 2009 - will make sentences harsher on those who are convicted of disruptive behaviour on aircraft. They could receive a fine of up to $100,000 and/or a sentence of up to five-years.

"The proposed amendments to the Canadian Aviation Regulations are aimed at passengers who, with their words or actions, indicate that they may behave in a manner that could interfere with the safe operation of the aircraft and create an unintended hazard for the aircraft, its crew and its passengers," said Durette.

Presently, those boarding planes use their discretion when allowing passengers on an aircraft.

"The proposed amendments strengthen air operators' ability to protect the safety of all passengers and crew by refusing to board those who may potentially represent a threat to that safety," she said.

Mike Tomm, operations investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the organization was notified of the recent NWT incident but they would not follow up as it is being treated as a criminal matter by the RCMP.

Waugh will appear in territorial court in Yellowknife on Jan. 13, 2009.

Fort Simpson airport manager Scott MacIntosh said Waugh worked as an aircraft refueler for the airport's fuel contractor.

"He was working for Nogha Enterprises," said MacIntosh.

Although MacIntosh could not say on Friday whether Waugh was still with Nogha Enterprises, a receptionist with the company said he was still employed there and when News/North was directed to Waugh, he hung up.

Durette said any disciplinary action would have to come from the employer.

Earl Blacklock, communications manager with the Department of Transportation, said there are two types of airports in the NWT: the Yellowknife airport with secured areas, and all others.

"Employees that work outside of Yellowknife do not have to have the restricted area access passes that employees in Yellowknife have to have," he said.

These passes involve criminal records checks and other things.

Fort Simpson airport does not have a secured area and Blacklock said any issue would be between the employee and the employer.