To: All BC and Alberta pilots
From: Andre Nadeau
HPAC Transport Canada Liaison
The 2018 season is now officially the second worst in recorded history in Western Canada, second only to last year. That means lots of fires with more than 470 active ones in BC at the moment which are shown at https://governmentofbc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=ef6f11c8c36b42c29e103f65dbcd7538
Lots of fires mean fewer opportunities for hang gliding and paragliding pilots to fly. That is unfortunate.
I think that this is as good a time as any to review the regulations associated with flying in areas where forest fire occurs. Of course, there are other factors to consider when planning a flight such as the presence of smoke which may have some impact on health but that is not my department so I will focus on regulations.
CAR 601.15 is the regulation that deals with forest fires. It states (me paraphrasing):
You cannot fly a hang glider or a paraglider:
a. over a forest fire area, or over any area that is located within five nautical miles of a forest fire area, at an altitude of less than 3,000 feet AGL; or
b. in any airspace that is described in a NOTAM issued in respect to operating restriction in an area where there is a forest fire.
Transport Canada further expands on CAR 601.15 in http://www.tc.gc.ca/publications/en/TP2228/PDF/HR/TP2228E_5.pdf which is a short must-read if you live in forest fire areas. I should add to this by mentioning that the size of a fire is not an indication of the likeliness of fire-fighting aircraft in the area. In fact, small fires are often the preferred targets as they can be extinguished before they spread.
It is important to realize that NOTAMS may or may not be issued with respect to aerial fire-fighting operations. That should not be surprising because the NOTAM publication process cannot, in many cases, keep pace with the real-time nature of forest fire operations when quick decision making is often the norm. So, the fact that there is no NOTAM for aerial fire-fighting operations in your area does not mean that they are not taking place. Always assume that they are.
NOTAMS can be found at https://flightplanning.navcanada.ca/cgi-bin/CreePage.pl?Langue=anglais&NoSession=&Page=Fore-obs%2Fnotam&TypeDoc=html. It is an old system and may be awkward to navigate so you need to play with it a bit to figure out where the information is located. Unfortunately, the relevant information does not always appear where you think it should e.g. local vs national NOTAMs so take the time to get familiar with them.
Of course CAR 601.15 is not the only relevant regulation associated with forest fires. The minimum visibility restrictions for VFR flight always apply (3 miles in controlled airspace and 1 mile above and 2 miles below 1000’ in uncontrolled airspace).
We, as a community, have managed to do a decent job by staying out of the public and TC’s radar over the past few years. This is what we want. I shudder to think about what an incident or accident related to fire-fighting operation would lead to if one were to occur. So let’s not break the rules today to find out later that it was a bad idea.
HPAC Transport Canada Liaison