I have been a pilot for about the last 20 years, and a member of COPA ever since I got my license. I have a suggestion for a program that COPA could administer on behalf of all pilots in Canada.
When planning a cross country flight, I find one of the most difficult things is trying to get reasonably current weather information in areas that are not well served by manned or automatic weather stations. In Canada, there are many areas where Nav Canada provides no weather information whatsoever (other than the GFA or satellite), and which are known to have local weather phenomena that may vary drastically from nearby reporting points.
In this situation, one of the most useful things is an unofficial "weather-cam" that is maintained and made public by various non-aviation related organizations. While the quality, availability and recency of these images vary, they are often better than nothing... which is what Nav Canada provides for many parts of the country.
I would like to see COPA maintain a website of all available weather cams across the country, formatted in such a way that pilots can easily click on a map and download an image from the latest weather-cam. There are literally hundreds of such weather-cams sited across the country, but there is no easy way of finding them all when flight planning.
The site would have to be regularly maintained and updated as weather-cams are decommissioned and new ones come on line. Also, a rating as to the quality of the image would be useful. Assistance and guidance could be provided to those wishing to install a weather cam in order to provide an image most useful to aviation. This would be a service that would be beneficial to all aviation users in Canada. I can think of several high-profile accidents in recent years, where local weather information from a weather-cam would probably have been useful to the pilot, and may have prevented a weather-related accident.
I would think that TC, Nav Canada and Environment Canada would be cooperative, and would probably provide funding to an organization such as COPA that would be willing to maintain such a website. Please consider this suggestion at your next opportunity. I think it would be very useful service that COPA could provide.
RICHARD J. PANTEL
North Vancouver, BC
ed. Thank you for this suggestion. COPA does not currently have the excess staff capacity to do an adequate job of establishing and tracking the availability of these cameras but we will keep this in mind when resources permit.
What we have focused our efforts on for many years, is convincing Nav Canada to improve the Automatic Weather Observation System (AWOS), including correcting faulty sensor technology and providing additional information. One of our key suggestions was to provide weather cameras with reference photos for an indication of conditions not only at the location of the sensors, which AWOS provides, but also in the vicinity of the airport and at other locations, such as entrances to mountain passes. They listened, as highlighted in a recent AIC 44/08.
In addition to several significant improvements to AWOS, such as the provision of thunderstorm activity (another of COPA's key suggestions) Nav Canada is replacing the first generation of cameras and adding cameras at additional sites. We are encouraging them to increase the number of these high quality cameras. Of course, there is a limit to how much Nav Canada is prepared to spend on cameras. Regarding additional sources of weather camera information, there are already efforts on the part of organizations with much more resources than COPA. One example is the WeatherNetwork, who maintains a comprehensive list of cameras in Canada, the U.S. and International on its website.
It would be nice if they provided a map of the locations and I have made this suggestion to them. Another is CanadaCams. The problem with all of these sites is that they vary widely in quality and how often the images are updated or even any indication of the time and date that the image was taken. Pilots should be wary of the reliability of these sources.