Buffalo Airways flights in the Northwest Territories have been suspended by Transport Canada over safety concerns.
A day after the announcement was made, what else have we learned from the airline and Transport Canada, and what might happen next? Here’s a Q&A.
What exactly has Buffalo done wrong?
Transport Canada has not really elaborated on this. The federal department declined Moose FM’s request for an interview. When we then pressed for specifics on Buffalo’s wrongdoing, we received the following prepared statement:
In October 2015, Transport Canada conducted an inspection of Buffalo Airways that identified deficiencies in the company’s operational and maintenance control systems. Several of the alleged deficiencies in its operational control system had been identified during previous inspections.
In addition to that October inspection, an earlier Transport Canada news release made it clear that the department has had grave concerns over Buffalo’s compliance with safety regulations for some time.
The airline’s aircraft have been at the centre of a number of incidents in recent years. The considerable age of Buffalo’s fleet is renowned in the North – but so is the company’s dedication to keeping those planes in the air and trying to get the job done in almost any conditions.
Buffalo itself has not gone into any detail on the precise nature of the issues it faces.
Why suspend Buffalo Airways at this important time of year, when communities depend on its operations?
Transport Canada told us this is a last resort after fining Buffalo a number of times didn’t work. The department’s prepared statement added:
In the past, Transport Canada has used various enforcement measures such as monetary penalties to encourage Buffalo Airways’ compliance, but these tools have not been strong enough to convince the company to significantly improve its safety record.
Transport Canada does not hesitate to deal with safety concerns. When warranted, the department may issue a suspension. This type of measure can be taken by the department when deficiencies identified raise safety and public interest considerations.
How will communities be affected?
There’s no doubt that many communities and organizations in the North rely on Buffalo Airways to move people and freight around.
“Buffalo Joe has been in the business for a long time. I’m sure he already has a back-up plan on how he will continue to service the Sahtu,” Danny Gaudet, chief negotiator in Deline, told Moose FM.
“Buffalo does the majority of the freight here, probably 80 to 90 percent of it: food, construction material, pretty much everything.
“They’ve been in business for a long time and run into issues before, but always made sure service to the Sahtu was continued. I’m sure they have a plan that they’re working on. In the past, they hired another airline to do their hauling for them.”
That is precisely what Buffalo said it would do in a short statement posted to Facebook yesterday.
“Buffalo Airways would like to thank all of its customers and passengers for their continued support during this unfortunate time,” read the statement.
“Buffalo Airways will continue to support all of our customers travel and freight needs through chartered aircraft until such time Buffalo Airways has resolved this issue with Transport Canada.”
The airline did not respond to our request for further comment and clarification on how its plan to charter aircraft would work.
In Hay River, mayor Brad Mapes told the Northern Journal Buffalo’s grounding was a “huge issue” for the town.
“Buffalo is a key transportation link for our town,” he said. “Personally, Buffalo has always made me feel safe flying with them and I’m hoping that Transport Canada can get the needed assurances from Buffalo to resume service.”
What does Buffalo have to do to get its planes back in the air?
Transport Canada told us:
Transport Canada will not consider allowing Buffalo Airways to operate until it demonstrates it has met the conditions in its Notice of Suspension. We continue to work with the company as it develops corrective action required to resume its commercial air services.
We asked Transport Canada what was in the Notice of Suspension and whether a copy was publicly available. Transport Canada had not replied by the time we published this article.
Buffalo believes its suspension will be ‘short’ and expects to be flying again soon, though it hasn’t suggested a date for that. Transport Canada has made no comment on the length of time Buffalo might spend grounded.
Mikey McBryan – who starred as the face of Buffalo in TV show Ice Pilots NWT – found room for levity on Wednesday as news of Buffalo’s grounding spread, retweeting the following:
— Alan Glenister MBCS (@ukahg) December 2, 2015