December 8, 2016

Restructuring Vancouver area airspace


Restructuring Vancouver area airspace


In the January COPA Flight (page 4) we highlighted the issues surrounding the impending changes to the Vancouver area airspace. In the interest of helping members prepare for the changes, we are printing the following that was supplied by Nav Canada.

Reduce complexity to improve safety and increase capacity and efficiency: that is the objective of sweeping changes Nav Canada will introduce following completion of an Aeronautical Study that examined air traffic and air navigation services in south-western B.C.

The Study was initiated in 2003, to examine what is arguably the most difficult air traffic control environment in all of Canada, with nine airports in a condensed area, bracketed by ocean and mountains, and a wide mix of aircraft operations.

Area airports, including Vancouver and Abbotsford, are experiencing significant growth in traffic, compounded by an increase in flying school, float plane and helicopter operations.

And with Vancouver acting as the host city for the Winter Olympic Games in 2010, and the anticipated increases in traffic, the time to simplify the airspace is now, says Nav Canada.

It’s also important to get the new system design and procedures into place before installation of the Canadian Automated Air Traffic System (CAATS) begins in the Vancouver Area Control Centre (ACC), scheduled for early 2008.

David Hales, shift manager at Vancouver ACC, acted as project manager for the development of an intricate series of changes to IFR operations.

He led a team of controllers that began meeting in April 2006, to propose ways to rebalance and reduce controller workload, increase airport capacity, reduce delays, and improve the safety of aircraft flying into and out of the Terminal Control Area (TCA).

Among the key changes to be phased in, starting in May 2007, are:

  • Reduce the number of entry points for IFR aircraft inbound to Vancouver.
  • Redesign arrival procedures, Standard Terminal Arrival Routings (STARs). Incoming aircraft to Vancouver will fly a “downwind approach,” in which they fly parallel to the airport before turning onto the final approach. These new arrivals will all be based on RNAV (area navigation) technology, which allows the pilot to fly the aircraft on a programmed track to the runway, without the need for radar vectoring from the controller.
  • Move the ACORD STAR further westward, to accommodate a downwind entry for IFR traffic flying from the U.S. into Vancouver. Currently, the ACORD STAR routes inbound traffic over Abbotsford and nearby Bellingham, Washington. By moving it slightly to the west, this will provide more space for the sorting of traffic in the compressed Abbotsford-Bellingham area.
  • Redesign IFR arrivals for Victoria International. Inbound IFR traffic will fly a downwind approach from the north, using RNAV procedures.
  • Expand Abbotsford Control Zone from 4nm to 5nm radius. With a longer runway at Abbotsford recently completed, a larger control zone is required to allow controllers to efficiently manage traffic.
  • Reconfigure Class F airspace dedicated to flight training. Some special use areas (CYAs) will be altered due to safety concerns and impact on IFR operations, while more areas will be created to expand dedicated training capacity.
  • Provide a two-way flyway for smaller aircraft operating VFR. Much like a ring road, this will enable pilots to fly around the Vancouver Terminal Control Area, and get on or off, without having to contact air traffic control. The VFR flyway concept is currently in use at many busy airports in the U.S.
  • Recommend that aircraft flying VFR below 2,500 feet over the Strait of Georgia travel no faster than 160 knots to enhance the ability of pilots to ensure situational awareness and effectively see and avoid. A notation recommending the maximum speed will be placed on the VFR terminal area chart.
  • Transponders will become mandatory for all aircraft in the Abbotsford control zone as of May 10, with Pitt Meadows and Langley following in early 2008. Already mandatory at Vancouver, Victoria and Boundary Bay airports, transponders transmit information such as speed and altitude, which enables controllers to better monitor the aircraft and for aircraft with onboard collision avoidance systems to detect them.
  • Modify the en route sectors. Once changes are implemented in the terminals in May, the next phase will be to split high and low en route sectors throughout the FIR.
  • Negotiate changes to “delegated airspace” with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The 49th parallel is so close to Vancouver, Abbotsford and Victoria airports, that when planes take off from these airports, they are almost immediately in U.S. airspace. For that reason, the U.S. has delegated this airspace to Canadian control, but under FAA rules. To improve the safety of aircraft flying IFR, Nav Canada has initiated discussions with the FAA to reclassify delegated airspace within the vicinities of Bellingham, south of Abbotsford, and the San Juan Islands, near Victoria.



A series of briefing sessions on the airspace changes is being held with local VFR pilots this spring.

These sessions, which are taking place at airports throughout the region, also offer an opportunity to address pilot practice issues, such as frequency management and communications practices.

A schedule of meetings is available on the Nav Canada website at

Implementation of new arrival routings and associated airspace changes is scheduled to take place on May 10.

In the fall of 2007, there will be a review of the restructured airspace and procedures, to assess how well things are working. At that time, a follow on review of VFR operations, including routes through the TCA, is planned.