This was a very complete article explaining some of the math facts regarding weather limits at the Castlegar airport for arrival and departure.
Missing was the technical side of aircraft performance, limitations, fail safe procedures, airframe contamination,system failures and other things that degrade the absolute capability of the aircraft to fly, manoeuvre and climb.All must be calculated before an approach is made and a departure is contemplated.
As a long-term captain (33.5 years), who spent much of his career flying the BC district, I know of what I speak.Technology can only do so much: it provides greater safety and accuracy for navigation but does nothing to help us with our ability to out climb a mountain whilst dealing with the various failures and environmental factors mentioned previously.
We must climb out to get above the peaks before any other decision can be made. It’s called safety. I flew my career safe and I flew for an airline whose model was always safety. I was trained to think and be safe, and I have exercised my captain’s authority many times when I, as the captain, felt that the conditions were not safe to depart or land as I had to ensure the safety of the aircraft, my crew and most of all, my passengers who entrusted me with their well-being. NO was a complete sentence!
Safety understanding tends to go out the window when somebody just wants to get home for Christmas, get to a meeting that can’t be rescheduled, or an aircraft is needed to maintain schedule integrity. Again, I was trained to filter out the “noise” and conduct myself and crew as a professional entity and not deviate from the expressed model of safety.
Castlegar is a somewhat unique airport in that it is a hybrid for arrival and departure as the aircraft has to be manoeuvred visually to specific points within the confines of the valley before transitioning to instrument flight or from instrument flight. There are many of these in BC. These are committal points. Weather is not absolute and it changes in seconds. If you have ever seen low cloud hanging around the edges of the valley, and how snow or precipitation degrades the visibility in both definition and distance, then you put that on your windshield … you get my point. All things happen very fast in an aircraft. The valley gets much smaller along with the margins for error when dealing with these conditions.
In conclusion, the next time your flight is cancelled due to weather as filed from the weather station at the Castlegar airport (remember — these folks are highly trained professionals in meteorology reporting and are our eyes when we are above or in cloud), say thanks to the system — airline and crew who put your safety above all else and don’t bend the rules. It’s an inconvenience but much better than an accident. Trust me.
Capt. Ross Shears, Air Canada Jazz (Retired), Riondel