At least two Westjet flights have been unable to land at Penticton Regional Airport (YYF) in the past week, and it appears a temporarily shortened landing strip is to blame.
A Westjet spokesperson said an inbound flight from Calgary International Airport (YYC) was forced to return to Alberta last Saturday. It was unable to land due to the ceiling being “below operating limits,” according to media relations advisor Morgan Bell.
Passengers on flight 3267 from YYC to YYF on Oct. 3 also experienced a disruption in their flight plans as the plane was diverted to Kelowna, B.C., under similar circumstances.
Melody Walker said the diversion meant her brother’s Friday morning flight to Calgary was cancelled. He missed his connection to Ottawa and was delayed by three-and-a-half hours.
Walker said the airline classified the flight cancellation as “weather-related” and therefore her brother was not offered upgrades or financial compensation for the inconvenience.
However, Walker said when she discussed the flight cancellation with the Westjet manager on duty at YYF, she was informed the flight diversion was due to the shortened runway impacting navigation equipment procedures.
“Tourists, local and regional residents of this area deserve to know the increased risk they incur if they currently book a flight to fly in or out of Penticton,” she said in an email to Global News.
Transport Canada issued a “Notice to Airmen” (NOTAM) posted to the Nav Canada website to alert pilots to the shortened runway at YYF by about 470 feet due to an obstacle.
Nav Canada is a private corporation that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation system (ANS). Spokesperson Rebecca Hickey said the notice is in place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 25.
The federal agency said the obstacle is the exhaust system at the nearby Greenwood Forest Products sawmill.
The exhaust system has reportedly been in place for several years but was flagged during a recent audit of the airport. YYF is owned and operated by Transport Canada.
Westjet said the shortened runway is impacting specific navigational aids for some flights that arrive at night and during periods of poor weather.
If the weather is not clear enough to allow the pilot to visually see where the aircraft is going, pilots are required to use instrument flight rules to operate the aircraft.
In aviation, an instrument approach is a series of predetermined maneuvers for the transfer of an aircraft under instrument flight conditions from the beginning of the initial approach to a landing.
“The Penticton airport was required to remove the only instrument approach that allows us to land straight in,” Bell said.
“A straight in approach allows the pilots to transition from using the flight instruments to visually identifying the runway and then landing straight ahead,” she added.
“Although there are other instrument approaches in Penticton, those approaches require us to maneuver or circle in the valley which we are unable to do in poor weather or at night for safety reasons.”
Bell said the approach was removed and the runway shortened as a result of a Transport Canada Process Inspection completed early this summer.
It is unclear when and how the obstruction issue will be addressed and the full runway reinstated to 6,000 feet.
Jazz, the operator of Air Canada Express service to Penticton, said the NOTAM could also impact its operations.
“Safety is our top priority and we only operate where and when it is safe to do so,” it said in a statement.
Global Okanagan has reached out to Transport Canada for further comment.