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The Observers

The Observers

From their stations at Northern community airports, observers have their eyes on the sky
By Herb Mathisen
Apr 18
From the April 2017 Issue

Even though you’re on call 24/7 for the week you’re on duty, meaning you might work well over your assigned 11 hours each day if there’s a medevac at night, the observer/communicator positions in Pangnirtung, Nunavut have not been hard to fill. Adamee Komoartok has been at it since 1985; his cross-shift for even longer. “He’s been here since ’83, so we’ve been around for a while, the two of us,” says Komoartok.

Across the North, trained and certified airport observer/communicators perform weather observations and communicate with aircraft to provide runway conditions and weather advisories. “When we’re on, that’s all we do: we work and then go home. We’re not even going to do very much because we may be called out at any time,” he says. And if someone’s life is hanging in the balance, every minute counts. But it’s not like Komoartok has a long way to go to get to work. “I live right next door to the end of the runway and it’s only 2,600-feet long.” His walk takes seven minutes.

To get to school, kids used to cut across the runway, which sits right in the middle of town. Now, a fence keeps people out. “The problem we mostly encounter during the summertime when the snow is gone is dogs going onto the runway,” Komoartok says.

Planes zip right over people’s heads in town: “It’s unnerving a little bit, but at the same time, it has its advantages.” Advantages? Well, consider the commute home in Pang the next time you’re searching for your car in a sprawling Park ‘N Ride lot. “Here, you can be out of an aircraft, pick up your bag and be home in five minutes without even getting a ride,” he says. “Down south, you can’t do that.”