Leaders of an air rescue organization helping high-profile northern search and rescue operations say they cannot convince the NWT government to provide a permanent base in Yellowknife.
The Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, or Casara, has more than 100 volunteers in the NWT. Funded by the Department of National Defence to search for missing aircraft, Casara is often tasked by RCMP to help search for missing people and can also assist communities with searches of their own.
Casara’s NWT operations are divided into zones in Hay River, Norman Wells, Inuvik, and Yellowknife. So far, Yellowknife is the only zone without a dedicated space for the association to run its operations.
Dave Taylor, Casara’s NWT director and Yellowknife zone commander, told Cabin Radio the organization leases space at other regional airports – leases which are at the discretion of airport managers.
At the moment, equipment for the Yellowknife zone is stored in a locker and at the homes of Taylor and another team member. For each search operation, that equipment must be rounded up and brought to the runway.
“Getting the right equipment to the right place is a challenge because we don’t have a common place to store it and retrieve it from,” said Taylor. This includes computers, headsets, intercoms, radios, tracking beacons, and lifejackets.
With training also a challenge in the absence of a dedicated space, Casara’s volunteers have approached Yellowknife Airport about finding a base of operations.
Taylor said he was told by a previous manager that no space exists for Casara to use at the airport. Taylor, however, feels it comes down to a lack of political will from the NWT government.
NWT ‘supporting Casara where possible’
In an emailed statement to Cabin Radio, a Department of Infrastructure spokesperson said there is no space in Yellowknife Airport’s main terminal or combined services building to accommodate Casara.
The department, which manages the airport, suggested Casara reach out to the RCMP or Department of National Defence to see if they have airport space available.
“Yellowknife Airport recognizes and thanks Casara for the important work they do, and will continue to support their efforts wherever possible,” the statement read.
The department offered to make a boardroom in the terminal building available on request for Casara’s “temporary space needs” such as training or meetings.
Casara volunteers are on-call 24 hours a day. The organization receives an annual $90,000 training budget from the Department of National Defence.
Until the search for a space is resolved, Taylor wonders what would happen if he were not able to store much of the equipment himself.
“It’s all dependent on me because I happen to have a space in my basement that I can store this stuff,” he said.
“If and when I go, I don’t know that the next person is going to have that.”