FOND DU LAC, Sask. — The federal government says it will spend $12 million to improve safety at a remote northern Saskatchewan airport near where a plane crashed in December 2017 shortly after takeoff.
All 25 people on the West Wind Aviation plane were injured — nine seriously — and 19-year-old Arson Fern Jr. later died in hospital.
Some of the upgrades to Fond du Lac’s airport are to include runway rehabilitation, replacing airfield lighting and installing a visual aid system that helps pilots make their approach when landing.
Last December, the Transportation Safety Board said people who use remote, northern airports are at substantial and unnecessary risk because of a lack of proper equipment for de-icing planes.
The board reached that conclusion during its investigation that found that the pilot took off despite noticing ice on the plane during a pre-flight inspection.
Last fall, West Wind said all of the airline’s northern destinations now have better de-icing equipment.
Speaking in Saskatoon, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said airports such as Fond Du Lac provide essential air services including community resupply, air ambulance, search and rescue and forest fire response.
“The community of Fond du Lac was profoundly touched by tragic events in 2017,” O’Regan said Thursday in a release.
“Today, our government is announcing new funding which will help ensure the continued safety and reliability of operations at the Fond du Lac Airport.”
A group that represents 74 First Nations in the province said it welcomes the federal announcement.
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said the upgrade is badly needed.
“We send congratulations to Fond Du Lac Chief Louis Mercredi and his council and community today as the fight to upgrade this airport has been a long time coming,” Cameron said.
“The community has overcome great tragedy and this funding today will go a long way in ensuring the safety of everyone who utilizes this airport.”
Transport Canada suspended West Wind’s ability to operate after the crash but restored it last May.
Fond Du Lac is about 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon. (The Canadian Press, CJWW)