A third commercial aircraft in the last three weeks was forced to return to its point of origin after being unable to land Monday night at Penticton Regional Airport.
Flight AC8354, an Air Canada Express De Havilland Dash 8-400 turboprop was approaching from the north and was flying over the mountains on the east side of Okanagan Lake towards the airport but when it got over Kaleden turned back to Vancouver instead of landing.
A spokesperson for Jazz Aviation, which operates the flight on contract with Air Canada, confirmed the plane returned safely to its point of origin.
“The crew made a decision to return to Vancouver last evening (Monday) due to a couple of factors – marginal weather at the destination, and also due to an indicator light in the cockpit,” wrote Debra Williams of Jazz in an emailed response about the flight. “Out of an abundance of caution, the crew opted to return to Vancouver. Safety is our top priority at Jazz.”
She referred further questions to Transport Canada about whether the shortening of the airport’s only runway earlier this year played a factor.
In September, Transport Canada warned of possible delays and cancellations of flights saying shortening the 6,000-foot runway by 470 feet affected specific navigation aids affecting some flights in bad weather or at night.
Nav Canada, the private corporation that owns and operates the country’s civil air navigation systems in June issued a NOTAM (notice to airmen) about the situation involving an “obstacle” just north of the airport property, which is a Greenwood Forest Products exhaust system.
The stack in question has actually been in place for a number of years and while Transport Canada was aware of it, the matter came to light again during a subsequent audit.
The other two aircraft that turned around were WestJet flights out of Calgary, the first one on Sept. 28 and the other was on Oct. 12.
In both cases, the airline said weather was the reason they did not land. However, a passenger on the Oct. 12 flight said the weather in Penticton was clear when they arrived but they turned back anyway.
In all three instances, the people on the aircraft and those waiting at Penticton Airport had to make other arrangements for overnight accommodations or stay at the airport.
One person on social media also noted that the inability to land an aircraft is also costly for the airline in terms of fuel, scheduling and staff.
Penticton has had a long-standing issue with flights in the winter months but the latest issue with the shortened runway is believed to have complicated that situation.
In spite of the three aircraft having to turn around, Mayor John Vassilaki is not worried this will affect commercial airline service to the city.
“I’m not concerned about that because it’s not going to happen (service disruption or cancellation) I am concerned about the delays and the returning of flights back to where they originated from,” he said Wednesday. “I had a meeting with our economic development manager yesterday (Tuesday) and he’s on it, he’s been talking with the federal government, the airlines, as well as the people on the Penticton Indian Band site and he hopes that we’ll have a solution soon, he doesn’t guarantee anything though.
“If it was up to us it would be a different story but it’s (airport) not within the city boundaries it’s under the authority of the Penticton Indian Band and the federal government.
Transport Canada has said it is currently working with Greenwood Forest Products to remedy the matter.
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