McMurray Aviation says people in northern communities like Fort Chipewyan and La Loche are being excluded from the re-entry plan to Fort McMurray due to non-accommodating airspace restrictions.
Owner operator Wade Komarnisky says continued case-by-case approval of flights is hampering his company’s ability to provide the most basic needs to the remote communities. He adds the restriction threatens long-term tourism opportunities for fishing lodges. He did agree the air space restriction was appropriate initially.
But with 80 helicopters, dozens of tankers, and other aircraft fighting fires, the skies above Fort McMurray are already quite busy.
Wildfire Information Officer Matthew Anderson says the sheer size of the Fort McMurray wildfire is what has restricted flying in the airspace above the region and is the reason a NOTAM was issued.
NOTAM means notice to airmen and is a notice of activity pilots need to be aware of that could restrict flying. Anderson says the standard policy would be five nautical miles and 3,000 feet from the perimeter of a wildfire.
“The difference with this one is the size of the NOTAM. And it’s really 6,000 feet and about 40 nautical miles in radius. And frankly that’s just based on the size of this fire and the size of the perimeter that we’re dealing with and that’s been reported. We’re looking at just under a thousand kilometres of perimeter on this wildfire,” says Anderson.
In response, Anderson says humanitarian flights bringing supplies have been permitted and if need be, a medevac aircraft can get through.
Anderson says the reason the NOTAM is put in place is for the safety of the crews and aircraft as well as the public in the vicinity.
“Even today we have 80 helicopters and several tanker groups that are operating as well as some local operators like Fort McMurray Aviation that we’re employing to transport fuel throughout the incident so you can understand that’s a lot of air traffic to try and manage,” says Anderson.
He says the firefighting operation is just so large, it’s all a matter of safety.