By Larry Pynn
Special to the Langley Advance
A near mid-air collision involving aircraft from competing flight training schools is highlighting safety concerns on a designated aviation practice area in the Fraser Valley.
A Transport Canada aviation incident report for 2015 says the incident occurred April 29 over the Glen Valley training area near the Langley-Abbotsford border south of the Fraser River.
A Montair Aviation Ltd. Cessna C172 was “forced to perform an evasive manoeuvre to avoid a head-on collision” with a Canadian Flight Centre Bellanca 8KCAB, the report reads. Both are small single-engine aircraft.
“The Bellanca was performing aerobatic manoeuvres throughout the entire Glen Valley area as well as outside the practice area boundaries, without making proper position reports on the local area frequency,” the report adds.
Montair Aviation is based in Pitt Meadows, Canadian Flight Centre in Delta.
Peter Schlieck, owner of Canadian Flight Centre, said he could not immediately recall the event but noted that other such incidents go unreported every year in the congested training area. He complained that training space is given a lower priority over airspace for larger commercial traffic and it’s possible to see six to eight planes training on a good day at Glen Valley.
“It’s a heavy-use area,” he said. “Situations like that happen frequently throughout the year.”
Ian Kennedy, chief operating officer for Montair, agreed there are “probably hundreds” of incidents that might go unreported annually in the area. He said that Glen Valley is used by flight schools from Boundary Bay, Pitt Meadows, Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
“In aviation there are always things you can do to make it safer, but that is a very long discussion,” he noted. “I consider it safe, otherwise we wouldn’t send our aircraft there.”
Pilots flying through or within the Glen Valley area should be monitoring a frequency specifically assigned to the area to lessen risks, said Bill Yearwood, regional manager of the federal Transportation Safety Board in Richmond.
Radio communications are a valuable way for pilots to augment sight for monitoring other traffic. “We know the human eye is not the best on its own for identifying aircraft on a collision course,” he said. Smaller planes are also typically not equipped with collision-avoidance technology found on larger commercial planes.
“With lots of training aircraft converging in a designated area, the risk is increased just because the probability is elevated,” Yearwood said.
In 2003, a student pilot flying a Piper PA-28-140 aircraft with Langley Flying School went on a solo training flight in the Glen Valley practice area. After about 30 minutes, and completing three 360-degree turns, the plane entered a spiral dive and crashed to the ground. The pilot died.
In 2011, two of four light planes flying in formation from Langley to Chilliwack collided in mid-air near Dewdney along the northern end of the Glen Valley practice area. One Cessna 150G plane crashed into a shallow slough and both occupants died. The pilot of the other plane, a Cessna 150L, regained control and landed safely in a farm field.
– Larry Pynn is a Vancouver Sun reporter