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NDP critic calls for aviation funding
Transport Canada is a slow, expensive inefficient system: Olivia Chow

Sara Wilson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's been a tough year for the Northern aviation industry - with three fatal accidents and one close call. New Democrat Transport critic Olivia Chow says the efforts by the federal government to make it safer are too little too late.

NNSL photo/graphic

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons, left, NDP Transport critic Olivia Chow, Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington and Julie Docherty, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada held a press conference at the PSAC office Friday to discuss Northern aviation. - Sara Wilson NNSL photo

Chow - wife of the late NDP leader Jack Layton - was in Yellowknife on Friday to show solidarity with Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington to pressure the federal government to increase funding for Northern aviation programs, safety and infrastructure.

The press conference was in response to the July 4 Transport Canada announcement that outlined new regulations for aviation safety in Canada.

The new regulations will require all personal and commercial aircraft be fitted with terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS). Operators will have two years to equip their fleet with the systems.

TAWS provides acoustic and visual alerts to flight crews when the path of their aircraft is likely to collide with terrain, water or obstacles.

"TAWS is a proven safety enhancement for sure," said Laval St. Germain, a 737 pilot and director of flight operations for Canadian North.

"It's got a world terrain database loaded into it, so it knows the elevations of the terrain where you're flying, and it's constantly comparing that to the terrain database."

Canadian North is a step ahead of Transport Canada, because the airline decided independently to upgrade its Boeing aircraft over the past few years.

The next step will be for the company to upgrade its four Dash 8s at an estimated cost of $100,000 per plane.

Chow and Bevington said they believe the announcement to update safety regulations has taken an exceptionally long amount of time.

"Sixteen years ago TAWS was recommended - the Americans have it, the Europeans airlines have it - but it took 16 years to finally say 'OK, we have to have it.'" Chow said. "Lives were lost because of it."

St. Germain agrees with the transport critic adding, that "it's taken way too long."

Chow and Bevington also said infrastructure for Northern airports is severely lacking.

"There's been an unfortunate lack of infrastructure development throughout the North that can go along with the increased use of the aviation system and that is certainly part of the public service to provide the kind of infrastructure that can give us safe, effective transportation," Bevington said.

As for the perceived lack of infrastructure in the North, St. Germain doesn't believe that the situation is as dire as it is made to be.

"Less than one per cent of the roads in Canada are up there, and just 70,000 people (between the two territories)," St. Germain said. "I mean it's easy to sit in the south and complain about infrastructure, but when you look at the small population up there and how remote these places are, and the expense of building any type of facilities in an area that may only be serviced by air or seasonal shipping. It's a complicated issue for sure."

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