Monday night, a third commercial aircraft in the last three weeks was forced to return to its point of origin after being unable to land 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, it 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 (Oct. 21) 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, after shortening the 6,000-foot runway by 470 feet, affecting some navigation aids and flights landing 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 notice to airmen about the situation involving an obstacle just north of the airport property, a Greenwood Forest Products exhaust system.
The stack in question has 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. “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.
Economic development specialist Andrew Kemp of the City of Penticton has been trying without success to get a response from Transport Canada about the matter.
“I’m not getting much from them (Transport Canada). They have to have a solution to this and a plan around it,” said Kemp. “As much as we can do, we’re trying to apply that pressure. Our intent definitely is to keep as many flights as possible increase those potential flights and address as many of those challenges as we can possibly can.
“I’m hoping for a very quick solution but I haven’t heard back from Transport Canada yet.”
Transport Canada has said it is currently working with Greenwood Forest Products to remedy the matter.
Send Mark Brett an email.
Like the Western News on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.