Airport de-icing problem that caused canceled flights fixed, for now

When the airport 's de-icer truck broke down on Sunday flights had to be canceled. The truck is repaired, but still prone to break down.

Many airport customers were more that a little frustrated last Sunday when the deicing machine used at the Prince Rupert Airport broke just in time for the snow that blanketed the town at the same time. This caused three Air Canada express flights to be cancelled before the aging deicer could be repaired.

“It was done locally by the First Canada mechanics, and it appears to be operational so let’s keep our fingers crossed,” says Airport Manager Rick Reed.

The deicer may have been fixed but not before flights were cancelled and the Air Port Authority began receiving angry calls. That anger may have been misdirected since the airport does not actually own the deicer truck, it’s owned by First Canada ULC (also known as Far West Bus Lines) who were hired to airport ground support staff, and it’s Air Canada and Hawk Air that hired them.

“Perhaps isn’t well communicated to passengers . . . the people who drive the buses are also the ground handlers who takes the baggage off the airplane and put baggage on and deice the plane, etc,” says Reed.

“We were fielding calls through our board members and also here at the airport about people who were quite upset and thought the equipment was ours. So we just wanted to make that point that we appreciate their concern, and that it was of great concern to us n too – that’s lost revenue,”

First Canada’s deicing truck is quite old and prone to breaking down, unlike the state-of-the-art machines found in airports like Vancouver International. When it broke down early last week the Air Port Authority says it offered to pay for the transport of another deicer if Air Canada could find one. Air Canada found one in Smithers and was set to have it transported to Prince Rupert, but Canada First’s mechanics fixed theirs before it could be moved.

What exactly went wrong with the truck and how likely it is to fail again in the future are currently unknown. The Prince Rupert Northern View made repeated attempts to talk to the manager of the Prince Rupert branch of Canada First ULC, Darby Minhas, about it, but our calls were never returned.

As for the people who had their flights canceled, its not quite clear how they were compensated for the lost flights, inquiries on this point to Air Canada were also not responded to.

Melanie Frizzel, the manager of the Prince Rupert branch of Hawk Air says her airline lucked out because the weather cooperated and they didn’t need the deicer, so none of their flights were cancelled.

“But we had a backup plan anyway . . . if the weather had worsened we had the alternative to go to Terrace and the ability to bus people to Terrace,” says Frizzel.

“We heard about it first thing in the morning, we discussed it with dispatch and got on it right away to make the alternative plans.”

But, says Frizzel, there is little the airlines can do to prevent it from happening again.

“That’s something First Canada bus is going to have to look at, we can’t make that call. They need a new one.”