Faulty ILS brings chaos to Iqaluit air travel
IQALUIT — Iqaluit airport was brought to a near stand-still last weekend after an instrument that helps aircraft land in bad weather malfunctioned.
Ironically Nav Canada’s instrument landing system or “ILS” probably broke because of bad weather, said one Nav Canada official.
“With poor weather sometimes you get humidity inside the antenna and stuff like that,” Nav Canada spokesperson Denis Berthiaume said.
Airport staff noticed intermittent problems as early as the middle of last week, but didn’t decide it was a problem until Friday when the system failed completely, he said.
“The weather went so bad that the instrument became totally unreliable, which is when they had to change the antenna. ”
Berthiaume said that once the ILS failed it was replaced, but it remained unusable because it needed to be adjusted with a special Nav Canada aircraft, which couldn’t make it to Iqaluit until Tuesday because of the weather.
“The flight check is an essential part of the whole thing, because you can’t have a fully operational system until the aircraft has been testing it. Otherwise it would be providing the wrong information to aircraft using it,” he said.
First Air cancelled six flights between Saturday and Monday. Pilots who did make it in had to use extra caution. Canadian Airlines base manager Reynold Icart said his carrier did not cancel any flights because of the weather or ILS problems.
The ILS, which feeds aircraft information about where the runway is, is one of three systems used to get planes safely on the ground.
The other two systems are not as exact and do not allow aircraft to fly in as poor conditions. On a clear day a pilot can use sight to land and not bother with instruments, or if the weather isn’t as bad as it was on Monday, a pilot can rely on the other instruments.
Fred Alt, First Air’s Iqaluit base manager, said it is up to individual companies to decided whether to fly. He said there are a number of factors considered in making the decision, including weather at alternate landing sites.
“Sometimes a person will call his brother in Pangnirtung and hear that the weather is fine.”
The problem, Alt said, is that an airplane needs at least one other place to land in case the weather in Pang changes suddenly. If the weather in the alternate location is bad, the airplane can’t leave