Four-day flight freeze at Iqaluit airport

Instrument breakdown and heavy fog stop traffic



This past Friday, Iqaluit airport manager John Graham was supposed to be in Halifax, but his flight was among about 30 that were rerouted or delayed thanks to a breakdown of the airport’s landing equipment and a low fog that, at times, reduced visibility to several metres.

“This is causing all kinds of grief,” Graham said on Friday afternoon.

“Airports are our highways in the sky,” he said, before comparing the airport shutdown to shutting down the 401 highway between Toronto and Montreal.

Several passengers missed holiday flights, and even more were stranded around the territory. There were mixed feelings at the Toonoonik co-op in Pond Inlet, for example, where managers were pleased with the extra business from travelers stuck at their hotel, but worried about stocking shelves in the grocery store.

No passenger flights left Iqaluit between five p.m. on Wednesday and 4 p.m. on Sunday, when NAV Canada managed to fix its instruments and the fog had cleared.

NAV Canada’s instrument landing system broke down last Wednesday. That system runs the lights that guide planes in and out of the airport during periods of low visibility.

NAV Canada wasn’t able to find the cause of the problem until Friday afternoon, said spokesperson Ron Singer from Ottawa. Then, technicians determined that water had built up in the system’s power source.

The breakdown wouldn’t have been a problem in better weather.

The instrument landing system helps pilots see where they’re going even when visibility is down to 170 feet. A back-up system aids pilots when visibility is down to 510 feet.

When visibility is lower than either of those distances, as it was several times this week, neither system would have been able to help the planes. Singer attributed about half of the delays to extreme fog.

NAV Canada had to wait for the fog to clear to fly in a plane full of technicians to fix the problem.

Singer said malfunctions like this are “very, very rare,” and that NAV Canada went to great lengths to get the system up and running again.”

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