Transportation Safety Board calls for urgent action in wake of West Wind crash

A West Wind Aviation ATR 42-320 crashed in a wooded area near Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan December 13, 2017. (photo: Transportation Safety Board)

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board says passenger lives are needlessly being put at risk in northern and remote airports because pilots are far too often taking off with ice and snow on their critical flight surfaces.

The TSB wants urgent actions by airlines, regulators and airports to make sure they have adequate equipment to deal with ice, and make sure that flight crews use it before flying.

The situation is particularly urgent because winter is already setting in at remote Northern airports, and icing conditions can last 10 months or more.

“Last summer the TSB sent out a questionnaire to 83 operators that operate out of Northern and remote airoprts,” said TSB Investigator-in-charge, David Ross. The results were startling. “Aircraft frequently take off with contaminated critical surfaces.”

Almost 40% of pilots told the TSB in a survey said they have taken off with no access or ability to de-ice their wings.

“How often does this happen? Short answer is, far too often.”

TSB Investigator David Ross

Ice can wreak havoc with the aerodynamic characteristics of a wing, causing the air not to flow smoothly over the surface. It can also impede movement of critical parts. New pilots are taught to recognize the danger from their first lessons, and regulations require zero contamination.

The Board released its recommendations Friday morning in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

The recommendations come as the TSB continues its investigation into the crash of West Wind flight 282 that crashed on takeoff from Fond-du-Lac one year ago. The board is not waiting for the final report because of the urgency of the situation.

The ATR 42-320 was not de-iced, even though a pilot noticed ice on the wings. Pilots told investigators they didn’t have enough solution or ladders tall enough to remove the contamination.

Seventeen seconds after take off, the plane crashed in a wooded area, less than a mile from the runway.

There were 22 passengers and three crew on board. Everyone got out alive, though Arson Fern Jr. died of his injuries two weeks later. 

“Pilots across the country have told us: you can’t use what you don’t have,” said TSB Chair Kathy Fox.

“Why do so many pilots continue to conduct take offs with ice or snow on critical surfaces? It’s partly human nature. Do something slightly risky once, without anything bad happening, and you’re more likely to do it a second time.”

West Wind says it acted even before the TSB’s urgent call to action.

“While we cannot change the past,” said CEO Michael Rodyniuk in a statement on Thursday, “we can, and have, made significant changes to prevent a reoccurrence,”

The company says the changes include installing Rodyniuk as new CEO, as well as a new Chief Operating Officer and new Director of Operations.

The airline has also implemented a “zero-tolerance” policy for contamination – particularly ice – on critical flight surfaces and has delivered enhanced de-icing equipment to all its destinations across the north.

“This is a very different airline today than it was just 6 months ago.”

Michael Rodyniuk, West Wind Aviation

The federal government has 90 days to respond to the TSB recommendations. The board hopes airlines and remote airports won’t wait that long before acting.

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