August 31, 2017

Abbotsford Airshow – Keeping the skies safe

On August 11 – 13, 2017, tens of thousands of aviation enthusiasts descended upon Abbotsford, British Columbia for the annual Abbotsford International Airshow. With annual attendance of more than   75,000 people, it is the largest airshow on the west coast of North America, and one of the 10 best airshows in the world according to USA Today.

But while the crowds were being enthralled by the aerobatic maneuvering of military and civilian aircraft in the skies above, there was a team of professionals working behind the scenes to ensure that the event not only took place safely, but with minimal  interruption to the regular daily operations at Abbotsford International Airport. With so many moving pieces involved – literally –  it is a challenge that requires tremendous planning and coordination. At every airshow, the Air Boss has primary responsibility for all airshow operations on the active taxiways, runways and the airspace for the airshow demonstration area.  The Air Boss  is not usually an air traffic controller,  but works closely with controllers throughout the show to coordinate  regular operations in between  airshow routines. However in the case of the Abbotsford Airshow the Air Boss is also a NAV CANADA employee: Trent Stenmark, Unit Operations Specialist at the Abbotsford Control Tower.

Air Boss Trent Stenmark (R), plans for the Abbotsford Airshow

Well before the show begins, the Air Boss is hard at work ensuring that all paperwork is filed and planning is complete in order to receive the required special flight operations certificate from Transport Canada. This includes the precise layouts of all planned aerobatic performances and ensuring participating pilots have the required medical and aerobatic certification. During the airshow itself, it is the Air Boss that holds the morning safety briefings for all those involved.

With all of the increased traffic that comes with an airshow, how are NAV CANADA employees able to continue to operate as when there is no airshow at all? It comes down to a combination of meticulous planning combined with an ability to be agile when changes are required – much like any day in an air traffic control tower or center. While the airshow schedule is built around the scheduled commercial arrivals and departures, the Air Boss can be in the tower working directly with the controllers to ensure that any changes to the schedule are well coordinated.

Trent Stenmark (standing) coordinates with the NAV CANADA tower

From September 2-4, 2017, Toronto will host the Canadian International Air Show, and once again NAV CANADA will be working closely with the Air Boss and other event organizers to make sure that the event takes place safely and without interruption to operations at Canada’s busiest airport. Holding Canada’s biggest airshow in the country’s largest city is certainly a challenge, however NAV CANADA’s employees are definitely up to the task.


Last year, I had the privilege of connect with Trent over dinner for a project. He had such pride in talking about the Abbotsford Airshow. It’s great to see him in action!

Where is the NAV CANADA Pavillon at the airshow? Shouldn’t they have one and provide past and present employees access to this event?


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