In the past decade, aviation has made remarkable advancements in technology, in modern cockpits as well as those of legacy aircraft.
Not that long ago, you would never have expected to see a 40-year-old aircraft with a glass cockpit, but this is becoming more the norm as operators keep up with customer expectations. Avionics shops are also meeting this demand, replacing older avionics and radios with newer, more sophisticated systems. New aircraft are difficult to find with anything other than glass panels and are often offered with complete Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatibility directly from the factory.
From a regulator’s point of view, it gives Transport Canada (TC) new challenges in keeping up with the capabilities of these great new avionics and communication systems. When it comes to developing regulations for Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), the TC approach has been to first look at what existing regulations allow. From there we can consider the impact of NVIS technologies and how they can improve safety for night VFR operations and then consider how to apply them within the regulations.
Many Canadian commercial and private operators already use NVG, and the demand continues to grow. These operators have been voluntarily operating to recommended standards and have helped lay the foundation for Canadian NVIS regulations. Transport Canada has been working with operators, training providers and the National Research Council of Canada Flight Research Department, to develop regulations that will fully embrace the enhanced capabilities of NVG and Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS). With this in mind, the Canadian proposal is to allow NVIS operations for all aircraft, private and commercial, with prescribed equipment and training requirements based on the intended mission.
Since current Canadian Air Regulations allow night flying by private pilots without an attitude indicator (AI) or a vertical speed indicator (VSI) it is undeniable that with proper training and equipment, the application of these technologies will increase safety in night flying for both rotorcraft and, increasingly, for fixed wing operations as well.
In order to safely understand the limitations of the imaging technology, pilots will require an instrument rating or prescribed instrument training to qualify. Private aircraft will require an AI and VSI as well as the standard flight instruments normally required for night flying. All aircraft will need either a radar altimeter or GPS with a color moving map and current terrain database. The draft proposal lays out a matrix that will allow properly equipped aircraft to operate at night to day VFR altitude limits including lower altitude and lateral separation limits along planned routes within designated mountainous regions, plus the ability to operate from and to unlit aerodromes. Depending on the mission and crew compliment some single pilot operations will also be allowed. Single pilot operations are being conducted now by law enforcement units and have proven very successful.
With leading edge imaging technologies, intuitive and comprehensive avionics, the time has come to update night VFR regulations.
With leading edge imaging technologies, intuitive and comprehensive avionics, the time has come to update night VFR regulations. Greater situational awareness from advanced avionics and the ability to see where one had only previously seen darkness provides a significant increase in safety to night VFR. This increased level of safety is to be embraced and encouraged through sound regulations and proper training guidelines.
As the technology gains acceptance and becomes as commonplace as GPS has, we could possibly “see” an end to unaided night flying in a few years.
Stéphane Demers is a special projects officer at Transport Canada, overseeing the adaptation of Canadian Air Regulations to take advantage of advancements in night vision imaging technology. Demmers has been a pilot since 1976, qualified in gliders, multi-engine aeroplanes, jets, helicopters, instrument rated and NVG qualified.