COLUMN: The secret under the runway

by Darrell Greer- May 31, 2018

For those of us who call the Kivalliq home, we’ve all been there.

Whether it’s trying to get back to, or fly out of, our home communities, there are often times the plane simply cannot land or takeoff.

It’s almost always a case of where we choose to live, nothing more, nothing less.

Aviation is often challenging beyond belief in our environment and there are a number of things that simply cannot be controlled in the Arctic.

Yes, it’s always darn disappointing but it serves no one justice to point the finger at the airlines or the airport crew as being the cause of our misfortune.

They simply have nothing to do with the situation and always act in the best interests of passenger safety.

In the case of inclement weather, the age-old saying, better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground, still serves us well, but there are also plenty of other forces at work beyond man’s control.

So it was this past April 25 when the runway lights went down in Rankin Inlet during the evening hours and three flights coming into the community were affected.

A disgruntled passenger led to the incident being blown out of proportion, with the specters of airport safety and staff capability hovering over the situation at the Rankin Inlet airport.

So what dastardly deed literally put out the lights? Water! Good old H2O underground.

The problem occurs every year and not just in Rankin Inlet. It is an ongoing problem familiar to every airport in the territory.

It’s no big secret that we get the thaw and freeze this time of year pretty much across the Kivalliq. And those communities that may get it a little later due to cooler temperatures, will eventually feel the effects.

When the thaw begins and the water drips, problems with airport lighting often begin.

As you may have noticed – if you’ve ever taken a daylight flight or casually surveyed the runway in your community – the wiring for airport lighting is underground.

Once the thaw begins, water seeps into the pulpits (like manholes, but smaller), they freeze, expand and pull the wires apart.

It can’t be helped. When you have underground wires and water makes an appearance at this time of year (and water has this antagonizing ability to go where it wants to), there’s going to be freeze and thaw and that’s going to lead to expansion and the problems that come with it.

It happens every year. It was simply Rankin’s misfortune – and that of the passengers on three flights – that, on April 25, it happened after hours.

Had it happened during daylight hours, planes would have continued to land, an electrician would have been called-in to fix the problem and the passengers would have been blissfully unaware that there was a problem at all.

But the fates were not kind; it happened in the evening, a disgruntled passenger having to return to Winnipeg spoke up and suddenly it was an issue of airport safety in Rankin with, in some quarters, the competence of the airport staff in Rankin being called into question.

I stand to be corrected but I would assume if there were a solution to this annual occurrence, it would have been put into play a long time ago.

Again, we can all relate to the frustration and disappointment of having to fly over our destinations. But we are all Northerners and, as such, we should have higher levels of understanding for such occurrences.

If nothing else, that level of understanding should prevent us from pointing the finger of blame at those undeserving of the gesture.

Food for thought.

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