January 28, 2013
Credit: Photo Credit: Field Aviation
“Pilots” at Air Iceland hold true to the nautical origins of the term, even with the best new avionics upgrade money can buy. As Flight FXI 16 approaches the northern Icelandic fishing village of Isafjordur in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 17 (the Sun rises around noon at this time of year), Capt. George Hanson looks down to the water below to determine the state of turbulence on the inbound leg. We are dropping through 3,500 ft. on a GPS approach that culminates in a horseshoe-shaped counterclockwise descent framed by mountains.
Hanson sees a “line” in the water, a demarcation beyond which experience has taught him will very likely bring moderate to severe turbulence.
Sitting in the jump seat of the Bombardier Q200, TF-JMK, on the 45-min. revenue passenger flight up from Reyjavik, I am able to witness this holistic “clash” of cultures—mixing traditional pilotage techniques with the newest communication, navigation and surveillance equipment available, courtesy of a recent upgrade by Toronto's Field Aviation. Air Iceland has two Q200s with the new cockpit, TF-JMK entered service last March and TF-JMG in June.
Field is the only provider of the STC cockpit upgrade for the three out-of-production Dash 8 models, of which about 560 out of the 672 produced are still active. The company has been performing Dash 8 retrofit work for more than 20 years and has modified more than 30 of the twin turboprops for special-mission use.
“That's where the turbulence is—you can read it on the water,” says Hanson of the border between smooth and choppy surface in the Isafjarardjup fjord as we near the initial approach fix into Isafjordur.
The ground-based localizer approach Air Iceland used before equipping with GPS-threaded arrivals through that turbulence and into an area known for rain showers. With satellite-based navigation, however, the approach fixes can be placed more optimally, “closer to the airport and out of the showers,” says Hanson.
On today's arrival, it turns out, the best avionics available are ultimately not needed, as the stratus clouds and snow showers part just enough for the first officer and pilot-flying, Hjalti “Yalty” Baldursson, to see the coastline and break off from the GPS-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) instrument approach for a visual arrival.