To my regular blog readers, sorry for the “oddly specific” nature of this blog post. 🙂 To those from the AvCanada forum, hope this helps clear up some confusion!
As an Observer/Communicator in Fort Simpson, I sometimes get flight logistics people calling me from charter companies in Edmonton or Calgary, asking about services or runway surface conditions for an upcoming flight to CYFS. Sometimes, I even get pilots calling me on the radio who seem a little confused about what services they can expect. They click 5 times for ARCAL that isn’t on — I have control of the lights. They call up with a traffic broadcast, not realizing I’m here to provide services. So, I decided to write this little discourse to help you southerners know what type of airport you are flying to when you’re headed North. 🙂
The Canada Flight Supplement is a monster source of data, isn’t it? Suppose you have a charter to Awesome Place (CYAP), a fictional but clearly awesome place north of 60. I’m not being sarcastic here (I’m being cheeky) — it is probably awesome, and how would you know? You’ve never been there. Keep an open mind! You might wonder if the CYAP runway will be cleared, or if it’s paved. Find it in the CFS. You wonder if you will be landing on a strip with nothing but snow and trees around? Look under PF for “public facilities.” Next, take a look at the “FLT PLN” section. Skip down to where it says “CARS.”
1. If there is just a phone number listed, then it is a 24-hour station. You will also notice “METAR H24” immediately below, next to “WX.” Someone will always be there, so you can say “Awesome Place Airport Radio” when you call up — no need to broadcast. You can expect to get current weather, RSC’s, assistance with fuel callouts, whatever you need from the helpful Observer/Communicators who work the radios. You don’t need to activate the ARCAL, because we have control of the lights. We don’t normally close IFR flight plans (although we do for VFR) and won’t be able to give you clearances — contact centre directly.
2. If it says “ltd hrs (see COMM)” beside the phone number, then you are flying into a part-time CARS airport. These stations run somewhat less than 24/7, some just Monday to Friday, daytime (details are listed under COMM). You will also notice below that, in the WX area, it says “METAR dur CARS hrs of ops.” In this case, if you’re arriving during the hours of operations, you can say “Cool Place Airport Radio” and expect to get a current altimeter, weather, and have runway lights operated for you (all the same services as a full-time station). If you are going to be arriving outside operating hours, you can certainly call ahead and arrange for the Observer/Communicator to be there for a charter.
In either case, if there is no answer — because the full-time station is temporarily unattended or the part-time station is closed — then feel free to go on with “Cool Place TRAFFIC, Lear Jet…. (location, estimate, intentions, you know what to do)…” In the part-time stations, if it’s after hours or on a weekend, go ahead and activate the ARCAL and watch for traffic — you’re on your own. You may even want to overfly the field to make sure there’s no snowplow out there and to have a look at the runway condition.
3. If the CFS has nothing to say for CARS or WX under the FLT PLN section, then you know you are headed somewhere really small (Nahanni Butte, for example). There won’t be anyone on site, except perhaps a snowplow operator, so feel free to get right to your traffic broadcast and don’t expect an answer back. Use the ARCAL, if there is one (look under “LIGHTING”). If you are wondering about runway surface conditions, and there aren’t any in the NOTAM files, try calling the regional APM or local operators (for Nahanni Butte, try ones in Fort Simpson) to see what they know. These small places are supposed to do daily RSC’s, but aren’t always diligent.
There are only a few exceptions to this — places like Norman Wells and Inuvik have Flight Service Stations, so it doesn’t say “CARS” but it does say “METAR H24,” so you know there are good services there. You should know what to expect from an FSS — this post is meant to clarify a few things about CARS.
Hope that helps you in your research when you are flying into somewhere new. 🙂