Are you adequately prepared for flight?

By Kevin Psutka, COPA President/CEO


I was checking Aeronautical Information Circulars and AIP (ICAO) Supplements on February 11, the date for the next change of aeronautical information and I noticed a supplement concerning the introduction of what appears to be a new restricted area CYR231 at Suffield, AB (it was actually introduced last year).

Since CYR231 cuts across a major VFR route along the trans-Canada highway, I wondered why COPA had not heard of this until now (this sort of major change is supposed to be consulted). I also wondered, given the significant potential this new CYR has for collisions if not observed, if every method of informing pilots was in place, including briefings to local pilot groups, NOTAMs and a change to the VNC.

I discovered through calls to Transport Canada (TC) and the military rep at NavCan that there were significant errors in the process of introducing this CYR such that those affected most by it (us) were not adequately informed and I understand that some violations may be in the works for pilots who were unknowingly caught by this lapse in consultation and notification.

If COPA had been consulted we would of course have pressed for not cutting into this major VFR route or, if the authorities chose to ignore the collision hazard that the CYR represents, at least introduce the CYR in a coordinated fashion, including conducting briefings of area pilots and waiting until the VFR Navigation Chart (VNC) is updated.

I will be formally contacting the Military, NavCan and TC to express our concern about how this new CYR came into place but I’d like to focus here on how important it is to check all sources of information, using this CYR introduction as an example of how you can be trapped if the system screws up and you are not diligent.

Before I go any further, I urge anyone who flies in the area of Suffield’s restricted areas to check Supplement 2/10 (accessed from the Forecasts and Observations page on NavCan’s weather website). You have to fly at least three nm away from the heliport and airstrip that is located near the highway. If you keep your GPS database current it should already be there but because NavCan decided not to coincide the introduction of this CYR with an update of the VNC, you should amend your VNC until a new one is available.

The consequence of wandering into the CYR, besides a violation, could be a collision with an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) being launched and recovered from the airstrip. They are operating UAVs there with wingspans as large as 49 feet! (Subsequent to my phone calls I was informed that they have decided to revise CYR231to limit it to the north side of the highway and free up the south side for VFR aircraft. That is good news but it will still be some time until it all gets sorted out. In the meantime, my advice is to stay well south of the highway).

Let’s get the legal stuff out of the way. CAR 602.71 states that “The pilot-in-command of an aircraft shall, before commencing a flight, be familiar with the available information that is appropriate to the intended flight.” This is a fairly broad catch-all statement that is open to interpretation as to what constitutes “available”. I will leave that to the lawyers and Transportation Tribunal folks to figure out how “available” all the information really is, in terms of how reasonable it is to be expected to sift through volumes of information to find out what pertains to your flight.

I suppose that one way to interpret this is that for your VFR romp around the patch you do not have to check anything, but if something goes wrong, you can be violated for not being prepared, including checking all NOTAMs, changes to charts and other information that can be located in several places, including scattered on the internet.

When an airspace change is introduced, it is supposed to coincide with the published aeronautical information change dates and delayed until all means of informing pilots are employed. Even though CYR231 has a significant impact on VFR flights and introduces a significant risk of collision, it was decided that it was not necessary to coincide it with a revision of the VNC.

Instead, the authorities relied on a NOTAM as the sole means of initial notification. Unfortunately, some authorities believe that their work is done when a NOTAM is introduced and if a pilot misses something it is the pilot’s problem.

Of course, this is an unacceptable attitude and one that I work hard to change. Unfortunately, it appears that this attitude existed for the introduction of the CYR.

NavCan followed a process whereby the NOTAM was cancelled when the CFS was amended, which then buried the information in section C of the CFS. Since the VNC had not yet been updated, the CFS was then the only location of the change.

Pilots are expected to check the chart update section of the CFS for changes and amend charts accordingly. I think I can safely say, based on the number of out-of-date CFSs out there and the every-growing chart update section that this rarely ever occurs.

When the VNC is finally updated, the entry in the CFS will be removed. NavCan’s schedule for chart updates indicates that a Calgary update is planned for March 2010, but this could change. As pointed out on the web page, a VNC remains “current” until NavCan gets around to updating it. “Current” means as amended by NOTAM and/or the chart update section of the CFS.

Although the sequence of NOTAM and CFS notification was followed, it failed to adequately inform pilots about the change, and worse, it appears that the removal of the NOTAM could have been interpreted by some that the CYR has been removed.

Until the VNC is updated, there is a trap, as illustrated by a spike in incursions. NavCan decided to create Supplement 2/10 as a stop-gap measure to get the word out until the VNC is amended and another NOTAM has been put in the FIR section to alert pilots to check the Supplement.

Some pilots never check NOTAMs because they assume for their simple local flight that there will be no restrictions or safety issues. For those who only check NOTAMs thinking that they have adequately checked all information, the CYR231 introduction illustrates that this is not enough.

You should be checking a current edition of the CFS as well as checking AICs and Supplements to ensure that you minimize the chance that you will missed something.

In the good old days, it was possible to get away with just kicking the tires and lighting the fires but we are now living in a more complicated world, with pop-up and sometimes extensive restrictions due to security concerns and an increasing number of airspace amendments to make better use of the limited airspace and accommodate several interests.

COPA is working to help improve the cumbersome system, including encouraging NavCan to create a much better NOTAM system (it is in the works) and cleaning up processes to ensure that major changes are properly consulted and introduced, but in the meantime here is a checklist that I consider the minimum that you should do to ensure that you are aware of all changes that may affect the safety of your flights.

  • Note the dates for aeronautical information updates click here and check AICs and Supplements click here on these dates or before your next flight after these dates.
  • Check the list of available VNCs to ensure that you have the current edition click here
  • Check the chart update section of the CFS. Be aware that the updates apply to the current edition of the VNC so you may miss some if you have an out-of-date VNC.
  • Keep your GPS up to date.
  • Before all flights, check NOTAMs. If you use the NavCan’s weather website, ensure that you check the FIR box in addition to others in order to ensure that you get all the NOTAMs that may affect your flights (the CYR231 NOTAM is in the FIR section).