Float plane operator quits interim board of new association, citing influence of big operators
Safety issues are not being addressed quickly enough, Air Cab owner says
By Larry Pynn, Vancouver SunApril 13, 2011Air Cab owner Joel Eilertsen, at his Port Hardy operation in April, explains why he doesn't like the life vest that would usually be worn during a float-plane crash. Eilertsen is a safety leader in the coastal float-plane industry.
Photograph by: Ian Smith, PNG
VANCOUVER - B.C.’s fledgling Floatplane Operators Association hit turbulence Tuesday.
As commercial operators gathered for the association’s inaugural general meeting, one member of the interim board of directors announced he is quitting.
Joel Eilertsen, owner of Air Cab at Coal Harbour on northern Vancouver Island, said he feels the association is moving too slowly on safety issues and that larger Vancouver-based operators such as Harbour Air are exerting too much control.
“I’ve quit,” said the owner of five commercial float planes. “I wasn’t happy. I’m not going to participate in a Harbour Air club.”
The association’s interim spokesman, Lyle Soetaert, operations manager for West Coast Air (owned by Harbour Air), said he appreciated Eilertsen’s forthright opinion and remains hopeful he’ll return in the coming months once he sees the group making real progress.
Operators adopted bylaws at the meeting and elected a nine-member board of directors, which will meet in about two weeks to set an agenda for the coming year and develop a committee structure.
“This is a real thing, not just a dream and a hope,” Soetaert said. “It’s happening and we’re moving forward.”
The association did not discuss the controversial issue of mandatory wearing of life-vests by float plane passengers.
But Soetaert said he hopes the association, working with Transport Canada, will be able to resolve the issue by the end of the year.
“There is a real push to get this resolved,” he said.
On March 17, the federal transportation safety board — an independent body that makes recommendations to Transport Canada — issued its final report into the Nov. 29, 2009 crash of a Seair Seaplanes Beaver plane off Saturna Island in which six passengers died. The pilot and another passenger got out of the plane before it sank in Lyall Harbour.
The board recommended passengers on all commercial float planes in Canada should be required to wear life-jackets, and that the planes should be fitted with easily opened emergency exits such as pop-out windows that allow passengers to escape quickly after a crash in water.
Soetaert, who was waiting with a professional communications consultant in the hallway outside the board’s March 17 news conference, immediately expressed his concern to reporters about the mandatory use of life-vests.
He said none had been okayed by Transport Canada for such use and there were fears that passengers might panic and inflate them inside the aircraft.
Now, Transport Canada-approved life-vests are typically kept in a pouch under the seat, where, the safety board asserts, passengers in a crash cannot reasonably be expected to find them in the seconds before a seaplane sinks.
Eilertsen said that for several months he has successfully provided passengers with coast guard certified Mustang life-vests in addition to the Transport Canada vests. The Mustang vests are worn during flight and can be inflated by passengers outside the aircraft.
He complained that Soetaert made no attempt to tell reporters there is a split in thinking among float plane operators or that the Mustang vests are certified.
“That wasn’t right,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, he basically represented Harbour Air as the float plane association.”
Soetaert said in response Tuesday: “The association’s position is that we want to look at all operators, all avenues, all options. The reality is, I believe there’s going to be different options.”
The B.C. coroner’s service investigated the 2009 helicopter crash into the Fraser River near Lytton in which pilot Robert Woodhead escaped the wreckage only to drown downstream.
The Ontario pilot had been on firefighting duty. The coroner’s report recommended mandatory use of life-vests during low-level work over water — something much of the industry has already implemented on a voluntary basis.
The coroner’s service investigating the deaths of five men in an MJM Air Beaver crash off Quadra Island in 2005 also recommended passengers wear life-jackets equipped with personal-locator aids. None of the five grabbed the plane’s life-vests before escaping the wreckage.
The safety board has been recommending the use of life-vests in flights since 1994. Full article here...