November 28, 2018
Safe Skies for The G7 Summit
Unique among planned special events in aviation are those that involve national special security – requiring special operations and close collaboration with government agencies. One example is when Canada hosted the annual Group of Seven (G7) Summit in June 2018.
For the first time since 1981, the G7 was held in the province of Quebec. Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States met to build consensus on global issues ranging from the economy to security. Security was a prime concern at this 44th Summit.
“Our focus was on the airspace management aspects of the event,” says Brian Guimond, Manager of Military Operations at NAV CANADA at the time. “We worked very closely with a number of other groups to get this operation off the ground, so to speak.”
Security, security, security
The first planning meeting took place in August 2017, and included invited members from NAV CANADA, the RCMP, Transport Canada (which approves airspace restrictions), the Royal Canadian Air Force, and other representatives from the Department of National Defence (DND).
Six of the seven world leaders flew into the Bagotville military airport, located approximately 150 kilometres north of La Malbaie (the President of France arrived from Quebec City following a scheduled meeting with the Quebec Premier). From there, they were helicoptered to the Fairmont Manoir Richelieu, the heavily protected venue selected for the event, renowned for its natural beauty and relatively isolated location overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
To accommodate this VIP traffic, a landing pad was set up in the parking lot of the secure, inner red zone, which was surrounded by a $3.8 million, three-metre-tall security fence. More than 8,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec were on hand to provide ground security. Given the site’s proximity to the river, marine security was also involved. A designated green zone was located around the red zone that, in addition to providing another layer of security, played home to a free speech area for any anti-globalization protesters.
Designing a no-fly zone
In preparation for the event, a 55-kilometre (30 nautical mile) area around the G7 site was declared a no-fly zone by RCMP in conjunction with Transport Canada, with a formation of Canada’s CF-18s from CFB Bagotville providing an airborne presence. “The no-fly zone went up to 23,000 feet and even if some of the civil aviation traffic were permitted to fly over it, we needed to consider all the air traffic — international and local — that could be affected and ensure it was as close to business as usual as possible,” says Guimond, a former member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
To find the most direct bypass route for air traffic, the southern-most part of the no-fly zone was removed (with the concurrence of the RCMP and NORAD and in coordination with the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Centre, as the flights would then be nearing U.S. airspace). It worked, and disruptions were minimal.
A growing reality: drone traffic
In addition to minimizing disruption to regular commercial traffic, the team had to bear in mind the potential presence of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs, or drones). The RCMP took measures to address any potential risk, or disruptions posed by drones to either aviation supporting the G7 or security of the venue itself.
Communication and coordination
Members of DND were highly involved in the planning and execution of the event. Three air force officers are in fact located at the NAV CANADA Head Office in Ottawa. Guimond’s experience in the Air Force has proven invaluable. “I’ve been involved in planning many aviation security events since the 2002 G8 Summit in Kananaskis, and each one presents new and interesting challenges,” he says.
Teamwork pays off
NAV CANADA’s Military Operations office and members of Montreal Area Control Centre planned and refined the airspace design until it met the needs of all parties involved. Guimond adds: “Managing a project like this is like playing 3D chess, there are so many variables involved. Everyone needs to be able to refer to the same set of facts and goals, know when and if to pass the baton and to whom, and who’s responsible for exactly what. We’re talking about people’s safety, bottom line.
“That’s where the extensive planning and emphasis on clear and concise communication come in, especially since not everyone in the larger team is an aviation expert. To me, that’s the challenge, and working with all these experts is the real reward in an operation like this.”