Snowbirds show cancelled by fog

Carla Allen
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By Tina Comeau and Carla Allen



Although it was starting to get a little (emphasis on a little) brighter over Yarmouth harbour around 5:30 p.m., the fog and cloud ceiling was still too low and the visbility was still too poor to allow for the Snowbirds show over the Yarmouth harbour to go forward.

This morning, conditions had looked favourable for the show but the fog bank moved in shortly after noon.

“The situation is not favourable, obviously. Anyone looking at the harbour can see that and understand why it’s not good flying conditions,” said Thomas Edelson, public affairs officer for the Snowbirds, in speaking with the Vanguard at about 4:45 p.m. He said they would make their final decision by 5:30 p.m.

He said there are very strict standard operating procedures that are given to the squadron that dictate what types of conditions it can fly in, safety, of course, being the paramount consideration.

“The most ideal conditions ... are 4,500-feet cloud ceiling and five miles visibility. The minimum that we need, for the least dynamic show that we have, is 1000-foot cloud ceiling with three miles.”

As of 4:30 p.m., which is when the show was to have commenced over Yarmouth harbour, the cloud ceiling was 200 feet with about a mile of visibility. 

And if weather conditions started to improve, they would have had to remain that way for a prolonged period of time before the planes would have taken off. 

Edelson added in his experience it is very rare to see air shows cancelled because of the weather. But, he also added, despite all the planning that factors into these shows the one thing no one can plan is the weather. It is always a risk.

At the time the decision was made to cancel the show, the conditions at the Yarmouth airport were such that the planes would not have been allowed to take off.

Originally the plan had been to make the decision as to whether the show would go ahead or not at 3:30 p.m. But the decision was put off for as long as time allowed as there was still hope and optimism the fog would clear in time. But it didn’t. 

Edelson also said when an airshow is planned there is “a box” that you’re going to fly over, part of that also involves the issue of a notice to airmen, which tells other aviators that it is a no fly zone and that for the time period of that notice to airmen, the Snowbirds own that air space.

“It says we own that air space real estate from this time to that time time,” Edelson said.

That notice to airmen was scheduled to expire at 6:30 p.m., which meant the Snowbird planes would have had to be back on the ground prior to that.

Even though airshows are dependent on the weather, Edelson said they rarely run into situations like the one that transpired in Yarmouth.

“We only had one show cancel due to weather (this year) and that was in Winnipeg,” he said. He’s seen practices cancelled and practice times changed because of the weather. 

He said the decision to cancel the show was a disappointing one. 

“It is absolutely disappointing. The guys come here and they want to fly. All the pilots, they love flying. That’s why they’ve been chosen and have accepted the job they have. It’s unique to come to a small community that doesn’t often get airshows. The host organizers and volunteers have been exceptional. It doesn’t make anyone feel good.”

Speaking a day earlier about the performance that had been planned, he had said it isn't uncommon for the team to fly above water, although there aren’t too many shows in a year where this is done.

This would have been the fourth show over water, he said. “New York was over water, Orillia and Kelowna.”

Edelson said if a boat moved into the “box” below where the planes were performing, the show would have to stop. Organizers had taken precautions to reduce the chance of that happening.

“You don’t want to be that person that spoils the show. Don’t be that guy,” said Edelson.

The team, had they gone into the air, would have taken off and spent anywhere between five and 10 minutes doing practice and warm-up, shaking the planes out, rolling them in high positive G and low negative G to make sure everything’s tight and screwed down and there’s no water in the planes, Edelson had said.

Again, he had noted on Tuesday, the only thing you can’t control is weather.

“Every air show accepts that risk.”

“The three things we need are a sterile box to perform over and weather – a cloud ceiling that’s high and good visibility.”

“Optimism is essential to all things airshow related.”

Meanwhile, the Yellow Wings, a division of Vintage Wings of Canada Aviation, had been on display again on Wednesday at the Yarmouth airport, as well as exhibits inside.

The Snowbirds and Vintage Wings visit were in celebration of the Yarmouth International Airport’s 75th anniversary.


Organizations: Division of Vintage Wings, Canada Aviation, Yarmouth International Airport

Geographic location: New York, Kelowna, Yarmouth

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