Aviation In Canada

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

IFR in Uncontrolled Airspace

Paul Tomblin asked about a comparison between US and Canadian regulations for IFR flight in uncontrolled airspace. I'll detail this a little here.

For an example, we'll take a flight that is outside of controlled airspace from departure point to destination. A routine example in the Moncton FIR involves Bathurst, NB (CZBF), again, and Charlo, NB (CYCL). While CYCL is not the facility it used to be, it remains an active aerodrome, particularly this time of year when the fishing is awesome in northern New Brunswick.

Our sample flight will depart CZBF and proceed NNW to CYCL at 4,000 feet. The airspace here is, of course, Class G, with Class B above starting at 12,500 (well, immediately above 12,500 as discussed yesterday). Since our altitude is well below the base of controlled airspace, IFR aircraft do not need to receive an IFR clearance to operate. This means that the departure, the entire leg of the flight and the approach, regardless of weather, may be made without talking to ATC at all. It is highly recommeded that such a flight check in with ATC, since ATC should be aware of other IFR traffic operating within the area. Also, as recommended by the AIP and routinely practiced, position reports should be made on 126.7 (or another frequency, if established for the area as published in the Canada Flight Supplement). This way, pilots may obtain traffic information from ATC as well as current positions of IFR and VFR traffic in the area that aren't talking to ATC.

Under Canadian regulations for IFR flight, an IFR flight plan or flight itinerary must be filed. The conditions allowing an IFR flight itinerary really only include the most remote fields, so we'll only talk about the flight plan option. The difference is subtle, but important. ATC will provide alerting services for the aircraft. This means that if ATC doesn't receive a departure message within one hour of flight planned departure time, somebody is going to go looking for your flight. This is to protect for the possibility of a crash on take-off. Similarly, ATC will be looking for an arrival report to ensure a safe landing has been made. In addition, once ATC knows you're airborne, they can relay traffic information to other IFR aircraft operating in the area so these pilots know you're out there.

Now, other regulations that apply to IFR flight in controlled airspace still apply in uncontrolled airspace. In Canada, the rule is 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within 5 miles of the aircraft, but this is sometimes higher, too. There are five Designated Mountainous Regions in Canada which require either 1,500 or 2,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a 5 mile radius instead of the normal 1,000 feet. These areas are the Rocky Mountains, the eastern side of the Canadian archipelago (the islands way up north), the island of Newfoundland, northwestern New Brunswick (a continuation of the Appalachian Mountains) and eastern Quebec/Labrador. The Rockies and the islands up north require 2,000 feet, the others require 1,500 above. Also, on the flight plan, you are required to ensure ATC receives a departure message and an arrival message (which may be relayed to the IFR ATC unit directly by radio or telephone (if no radio frequency is available) or to the ATC unit via a FSS by radio or phone. Altitudes flown shall be the same as those within controlled airspace (even thousands westbound, odd thousands eastbound). As mentioned, position reports should be made on appropriate frequencies. Where an ATC unit is reachable, make these reports to the ATC unit, and it is also recommended practice that position reports also be made on appropriate enroute frequencies (126.7, unless otherwise specified) if practical. All other requirements normal to IFR flight apply as well, such as aircraft lighting and equipment, weather minima for take-off and landing, requirements for alternate aerodromes and everything else you can think of.