Two years on, Fond du Lac chief continues to press for safety

December 13 marks the second anniversary of the crash of West Wind Flight 280 in Fond du Lac, Sask.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board issued recommendations for enhancements in northern aviation as a result of the West Wind crash in December 2017. Fond du Lac’s chief is calling for runway improvements. TSB Photo
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Community member Arsen Fern Jr. lost his life as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.

Now, two years later, Fond du Lac Chief Louie Mercredi continues to lobby Ottawa for improvements to his airport. “One week after the crash, I came to Ottawa to get improvements at the airport for my community,” said the chief. “At the time, a lot of promises were made; now two years later, my airport remains the same.”

The chief is asking Ottawa to provide the necessary improvements to widen and lengthen his airport runway. It was originally built for light piston-powered aircraft carrying up to nine passengers. Now, airline category aircraft carrying as many as 50 people are flying into the same small airfield.

“In the 1970s, they built the runway for small Piper aircraft.  Our community has grown. The only way in or out for people, services, medication and food for most of the year is with bigger aircraft, but they use the same small runway,” the chief said.

The Government of Canada has committed funds for improving the runway; however, work has not started and there are no plans for lengthening or widening the runway. “The runway is the same 3,800 feet long by 75 feet wide as it was when it was built in the 1970s. We need it to be at least 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide to be safe for our community,” Chief Mercredi stated.

Michael Rodyniuk is the CEO of West Wind Aviation.  He was brought in to lead and restructure the company after the crash in October 2018.  Rodyniuk was with Chief Mercredi in Ottawa outlining the issues and echoing the chief in his calls for action. “Last year, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board issued recommendations for enhancements in northern aviation as a result of the crash. West Wind has deployed de-icing vehicles and equipment; however, the runway is the same. These are short, narrow airfields. Our flight crews must be on their game to carry out operations in the North. While our operation is safe and regulatory compliant, a wider and longer runway with the associated navigation aids would improve our operations into Fond du Lac,” Rodyniuk said.

The Province of Saskatchewan has accessed funds through the Government of Canada’s Airports Capital Assistance Program and plans to initiate work in the summer of 2020 to improve the surface of the runway, add high intensity lighting, and add painted runway markings. The process is taking too long for Chief Mercredi. “I want to see shovels in the ground in the spring and a commitment to lengthen and widen the runway in a second phase of construction. The safety and health of my people in Fond du Lac is at stake; I won’t rest until it is done.”

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