"This is Transport 951..." The Work of Transport Canada’s West Coast Surveillance Aircraft

by Lynn Salmon 2016

Transport 951

Transport 951 – shown on the apron at Comox Air Force base during the August 2015 Airshow open for tours (Photo from the Lynn Salmon collection. )

Its large, bright red, and soaring high overhead. The chances are that you just saw Transport Canada’s heavily modified Dash 8–100 aircraft headed offshore to scour the coastline for polluting vessels.

With the callsign Transport 951, the aircraft patrols the inner and outer waters of BC – far offshore as well as inside and northern waters - to scan for any vessels that are polluting and to record any evidence of pollution on the seas. The aircraft typically spends five hours on patrol and can cover hundreds of miles of coastline and inland waterways. The plane is crewed by two pilots and two system operators who investigate spills using unique pollution-detecting equipment including a digital camera to record pollution events that are then sent immediately to coast guard for quick dissemination and alerting. Estimates are made of pollution masses, charts are plotted to show the extent of such events and any likely offending vessels in the area are noted and queried.

Screen Shot

Example of what a pollution report looks like – this is a screen shot showing the extent of a spill in Ucluelet Harbour. Estimated volume is 8.6 litres with no obvious polluter. (Photo from the Lynn Salmon collection. )

Transport 951 has a 1300 nautical mile range and a patrol speed of 180 knots. Equipment carried aboard is very specialized: Sensor Suite MSS–6000, Ericsson XBand SALR, L3 Wescam MX15 EO/IR, Argon St Daedalus IR/UV line scanner, digital still image and video capability, EMS satcom satellite comms system (data/voice) The two system operators on board monitor the seas for pollution and polluting vessels and operate the complex pollution detecting gear. When a spill is spotted a specific procedure is followed dependant on what assessment is made initially. Factors that impact an investigation include the size of the spill, the type of pollution, whether or not an obvious polluter is nearby; all is photographed for later investigation. Spill quantities are measured using a specific formula devised by aircraft spotters and over time, experienced operators can estimate spill sizes with great accuracy.

Unfortunately this service is much needed: vessels operate off shore and commit polluting offenses all too frequently with seeming impunity. But with the sophisticated gear and the commitment of the small crew aboard Transport 951 our west coast waters are monitored and protected for mariners as well as marine life.


On board monitoring station (Photo from the Lynn Salmon collection. )


Dash 8–100 cockpit (Photo from the Lynn Salmon collection. )


Aisle arrangement. (Photo from the Lynn Salmon collection. )


Crest of the National Aerial Surveillance Program displayed on the Dash 8–100. (Photo from the Lynn Salmon collection. )

To quote from this article please cite:

Salmon, Lynn (2016) This is Transport 951. Nauticapedia.ca 2016. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Transport_951.php

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