Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Internet Was Right

Climbing out of Fort Nelson, we watch the bands of yellow and green trees recede below us. Before long there are a few patches of snow visible on the ground between the trees. We're climbing over the beginning of a mountain range, and the peaks and ridges of the rock formations are capped with snow. We level off a thousand feet above the highest en route peak, and can see many higher mountains to the south, covered, rather than merely capped, with the white stuff. Just snow, no cloud. The Liard River snakes back and forth under our track, sometimes shadowed in its valley and sometimes reflecting the rays of the late afternoon sun brightly into our eyes.

To the north there are more mountains, but they are covered by a blanket of scattered to broken cloud. It's just as the Internet told us it would be, and it stays that way right through the flight. After we pass the highest ground in and return to flatter land to the west of the mountains there is no longer snow on the ground. The view the the south is spectacular, but I know the light is all wrong for photography, so I just admire it and don't get out the camera.

Watson Lake doesn't have a tower, and doesn't have an FSS either. It has a different kind of service, unique to the territories, called CARS, Community Aerodrome Radio Services. A CARS operator doesn't give ATC instruction or control traffic. He usually makes local weather observations and can pass pilots Nav Canada weather information, but he doesn't have the same level of training as a flight service specialist. The CARS guy at Watson Lake responds to our call and gives us the current weather after long thoughful pauses. We all giggle at his deliberation, but he could be multitasking. We land and taxi to the apron then call him back to ask for a parking recommendation. He indicates what he refers to as "the old runway" but it doesn't line up with the end of the disused cross runway. It's an area of cracked pavement with grass growing through. I think it's just a disused apron. We'd like to get in the hangar, but the chief pilot's advance enquiries about that have not been fruitful. We'll try to work that out before any bad weather.

Considering him and this morning's taxi driver together, I wonder if "runway" is a common layman's term for any aircraft movement area. I do remember before I was a student pilot, using the term taxiway to describe a place where an airplane taxis but doesn't take off or land. I thought I was making up the term, but expected it to be descriptive enough for the pilot I was talking to to recognize what I meant and supply the correct term. When he didn't, I asked and was a little surprised to find that what then seemed like a very awkward word was the correct one.

Whatever this piece of the ramp is or once was, the chief pilot rejects taxiing onto it because of a big puddle. We shut down on the apron side of the puddle and then look around for plug-ins. I spy some in the parking lot, against the outside side of the fence. Obviously they are for cars, but we can easily run our extension cord through the fence and plug in there. I run around through the terminal to plug in the cord, but the outlet is not live; there's no electricity.

I go back into the terminal to see if there is someone we have to ask to get the power turned on. The CARS guy says no, and instead offers us another place we can plug in. He takes me through the terminal to a little garage with a plug inside. He says we can run our cord through the door. It's a typical hangar door, with a chain to raise it, kind of like the string you pull to draw a curtain. I walk over and start looking for a latch to release before I start pulling on the chain: sometimes there's a deadbolt or something near the floor. Here it turns out to be a pull handle in the ceiling. Nowmal for a garage, I guess. He reaches up and releases it, then raises the door by brute force. The chain is broken, he explains.

We plug in there, and then pile in a taxi. The driver gives us a tour of town on the way to our hotel, rating all the restaurants and hotels. We apparently did well to avoid the one the Internet panned, and the only one better than the one we are in costs more than twice as much.


Echojuliet said...

The CARS service sounds an awful lot like the flight services stations we have operating in Alaska. They used to be all over the US, but got phased out in the lower 48 as pilots stopped using them. However, we still love them here in AK!

While they (FSS) do not control traffic, they give traffic advisories, which is very helpful, considering a lot of the airports with flight service are much busier than smaller towered airports in the lower 48.

dpierce said...

Oh, c'mon. Taxiways and aprons make perfectly good runways. Says so right here.

Aviatrix said...

I love how this quote: "Pilots are trained to land on the runway," Bergen says. "Taxiway landing is not appropriate." It sounds like he's talking about something a golden retriever did.

nec Timide said...

No! Bad pilot! ;)

Verification word: polesque
Burlesque with a pole.

gmc said...

Doesn't YVR have a taxiway on the south side that is converted to a runway for small traffic?

Aviatrix said...

Yes YVR does. It's designated 26A and appears to be for use for departures only by small aircraft on day VFR, when the 26s are active. Seeing as it's right near the FBOs, it looks safer and more efficient than giving them intersection departures or having them taxi all the way back to the threshold of 26L.