Who’s on first?


There is a brilliant play on words by the comedy team Abbott and Costello, wherein Abbott tries to explain baseball team players’ names while Costello has difficulty understanding who the players are because of their names. Costello never does fully understand.

Well, thanks to a twisted maze of agencies, an Act, regulations and a border, we remain without the same safety of flight weather information in Canada as in the U.S. And I feel like Costello.

In 2005 we reported on the developing market for weather services delivered to the cockpit via satellite and its availability, or lack thereof, in Canada. At that time, there was only one provider of services that could be up-linked legally into Canadian aircraft and provide some Canadian weather information. WSI InFlight® www.wsi.com/aviation/products/inflight provides either a North American package for US$799 per year or a Canada-only package for either US$479 per year or a daily fee of  US$14.95 plus an initial fee of US$199.

The additional data from Canada includes METARs and TAFs and Canadian weather radar (the Environment Canada public weather radar). There are a number of dealers in Canada that can be found on the WSI site. WSI remains the only provider and the Canadian data is limited compared to the U.S.

At that time, the capability to receive satellite radio weather data was beginning to emerge in Canada, both in new aircraft with built-in equipment as well as a variety of hand-held devices. We reported that the developing public satellite radio market, to which services such as XM aviation weather in the U.S. are tied, was stalled in Canada for various reasons.

Although satellite radio is now available in Canada, aviation weather information remains stalled as of the writing of this column, and it appears that Who’s on first may to a certain extent be at play.

So, who are the players? Canada is a State in the sense of ICAO standards for the delivery of weather services, both here and internationally. Nav Canada is a provider of services because of its ownership of the air navigation system, including aeronautical services and information, such as weather data. So, in effect they are fulfilling the State’s commitments to ICAO.

Through the Canadian Aviation Regulations, Transport Canada retains some oversight of Nav Canada to fulfill its State requirements. There is also the Canadian Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act that details Nav Canada’s rights and obligations under law as the monopoly provider of the services.

Nav Canada contracts Environment Canada to collect much of the data and develop reports and forecasts, manage the computer systems that are integral to the aviation weather website and Nav Canada also has agreements in place with Environment Canada for use of its products such as Doppler weather radar and lightning detection network.

In addition, the World Meteorological Organization, in which Canada is a member, strives to ensure, among other things, that weather data and products generated by one country are freely available to other countries who in turn provide the data to others within their country for research as well as public safety.

There is also the Canadian Radio and Television Commission who grants licences to providers of radio broadcast services, including satellite radio. There are the satellite radio service providers, such as XM Radio and Sirius, and because of the border, there are two separate entities for each of these companies on each side of the border.

Finally, there are other contractors who provide services to the satellite radio service providers in order to transform the data into products for uploading to the devices.

At the current time, some information for Canada is available, such as the U.S. Nexrad radar pictures that spill over into a small portion of southern Canada and TAFs and METARs, but for the most part there remains a black hole for Canada.

Data that is provided free of charge by such U.S. agencies as the National Weather Service (NWS), are repackaged by the satellite weather service providers and sold to subscribers in the U.S. Some of the data, such as METARs and TAFs, comes to the NWS from Nav Canada as part of its WMO commitment on behalf of Canada, and it finds its way onto subscribers’ devices.

Some Canadians have accounts in the U.S. for services, although this method of picking up the service is effectively like the pirating of satellite TV that occurred in its early days.

As of the writing of this update article, I understand that Nav Canada followed up on COPA’s call for service in Canada and they approached both Sirius and XM for their intentions for weather services (Canadian and U.S. products) that can be purchased in Canada.

Nav Canada considers it has Intellectual Property rights over the data it provides and consequently they require an agreement with anyone who wishes to sell weather products in Canada.

I understand Sirius did not respond but XM U.S., through one of their developer contractors, Baron Services, has been working on a package for Canada so that U.S. XM subscribers will also have access to a full range of products for Canada and Canadian XM subscribers, through purchasing of services from XM Canada, will have access to Canadian and U.S. information.

Although the intention is to have service available this year, there is no date set. I understand that the delay is in part caused by contractual negotiations between Nav Canada and Baron Services. I understand Nav Canada is not seeking compensation for this agreement or for the data.

I contacted XM Canada for an indication of when the service will be available. Although a solution is in the works, there is no date set for introduction of service in Canada. There are some issues to be worked out, mostly technical in nature, but they are hopeful to provide access sometime this year.

Unfortunately, this enhancement to our safety of flight will have to wait. I have approached the government in 2005 in their capacity as the “State” to take a role in bringing this safety information forward but they backed away from the issue, stating that this is a matter between us and the provider (Nav Canada).

So, we are at the mercy of commercial interests and contractual law. I hope the issues will be resolved soon. In the meantime, be careful out there, especially if you are using information from US sources. For example, even though the U.S. Nexrad covers some of Canada, it is a slant-range depiction of precipitation. The further away from the radar site, the less likely will low level precipitation such as lake-effect snow be detected. It may appear to be clear when in fact it is WOXOF.

I am sorry that I cannot be more precise on the situation or the timing of service in Canada. Like I said, I feel like Costello. So, who’s on first? I don’t know… wait a minute, he’s third base! (complete text or recording of the Abbott and Costello routine can be found at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml).