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SMART | work All eyes on the skies

Flight service specialists keep track of the constantly changing weather patterns for all air travel around Winnipeg. All photos courtesy of NAV CANADA.

by Derek Gagnon A

s a kid, before you left for school, your mom would check the weather in case you needed to pack an umbrella or extra jacket. While they may be all grown up, pilots are required to check in for a weather briefing before they even

Flight service specialists observe weather for Environment Canada and the city.

get into a plane. Te last thing a pilot wants to do is worry about what the

weather is going to be like between Point A and Point B so they rely on a team of specialists to keep them in the know. Flight Service Specialists working in NAV CANADA’s Flight Information Centres around the country are the team that ensures pilots have all the necessary information on what

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the skies have in store for them. Just like mom used to do. Te FIC in Winnipeg is one of eight that NAV CANADA – the

company that provides air navigation services for Canadian civil airspace – operates across the country. NAV CANADA also owns and operates the air traffic control tower at the Win- nipeg Richardson International Airport and the nearby area control centre (see Te Hub, Spring 2015). Te Winnipeg FIC is responsible for the airspace over Manitoba, Saskatchewan, northern Ontario and most of the western side of Nunavut. Te Flight Service Specialists working in the FIC have to be

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proficient in a number of services. With a number of roles to fill within the centre, each specialist must be able to do each job, as the positions rotate. • Weather Briefings: When pilots call in to check on the

weather conditions, specialists give up to date conditions between their point of departure and their destination. Tey are able to accurately report this information due to their in- depth meteorological training, which allows them to interpret the data and pass it along. Tis is especially important in parts of the country that do not have easy access to the Internet and cannot simply check the weather on their phones. • Flight Planning: When a large thunderstorm looms be-

tween you and your destination, going through it is not an option. Pilots and flight service specialists work together to plan routes that get you to your destination as quickly and safely as possible. Te specialists file the flight plans, which are mandatory in Canada and provide alerting services or ensure the pilot makes it to their destination. • En route advisories: We all know how quickly the weather

can change. Skies that were blue can turn ugly and turbulent in minutes. Te Flight Information Centre is always available to give in-flight updates, so pilots can amend their flight plans to avoid inclement weather. • Emergency Services: Sometimes, things don’t go accord-

ing to plan. Planes take longer to get to their destination than they should, pilots don’t check in at the appropriate place and time or an emergency occurs. When a plane is overdue or appears to be missing, flight service specialists are the first ones to start investigating the location of the missing aircraft. Whether it’s phoning airports to do a ramp check to see if the plane is there, calling pilots directly on their cell phones or co-ordinating further search and rescue efforts with the military, they are there to help. Each pilot has an emergency contact, and the airports all have a list of people to get in touch with in case of an emergency as well. • Notice to Airmen (NOTAM): Notices to alert pilots of

things that are out of the norm. Tese include radio frequen- cies that aren’t working, temporary no-fly zones for reasons such as military exercises and forest fires. Te local airports will also report on conditions such as runway status, and the FIC passes that information along. Tere are no days off at the FIC. A minimum of two people

are working at any given moment 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. While there are more planes operating during the day and during the summer, there are still planes that need atten- tion during the night and during the winter. Even on Christ- mas Day, you will find a crew of specialists sitting in front of their monitors, making sure everything is safe and sound. While the jobs and skills of flight service specialists are

quite transferable all across the country, one cannot simply show up at a new location and start working. Tey have to become accustomed to the unique characteristics of each region through local training. Te work station for a flight service specialist at an FIC

consists of several monitors showing displays of meteoro- logical information, a digital radio display, a phone and the all-important headset. Te specialists have to take in a lot of data in a variety of formats, and it is their ability to process all of that information and pass it along in a concise and timely manner that keeps everything operating smoothly. Specialists at the Winnipeg FIC are also the city’s official

weather observers. When you get reports from the local weatherperson, they are getting their data from the informa- tion collected by the people at the FIC. The flight service specialists at the Flight Information

Centre in Winnipeg, and the other FICs around the country, have their eyes on the skies and their expertise ensures for the smoothest ride possible. Teir constant monitoring of conditions means they truly know the skies better than anybody else. Special thanks to Peter Hamm, Joel Favreau and Maria Fedorowich of NAV CANADA.

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