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"VEH" 2005 Obituary


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VEH o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-11-04 published
Bob MacWILLIAM, Aviator: (1937-2005)
Pilot became aviation detective who sifted through the evidence for royal commissions that investigated two fatal air crashes
By Danny GALLAGHER, Special to The Globe and Mail, Friday, November 4, 2005, Page S7
Toronto -- As a young child, Bob MacWILLIAM loved to build model airplanes. He realized his boyhood dream of becoming a pilot, logging more than 20,000 hours with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Qantas and Air Canada.
Air Canada thought so much of Mr. MacWILLIAM, he was hired to be a trainer and check pilot. His expertise also made him a renowned hired hand at special hearings, commissions and tribunals. When fatal air crashes took place in Cranbook, British Columbia, and in Dryden, Ontario, Mr. MacWILLIAM was hired as a technical adviser to the royal commissions of inquiry.
Mr. MacWILLIAM joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in the mid-1950s and stayed for 10 years. He flew CF-100s, all-weather fighter planes, in Baden-Solingen, Germany, during the Cold War of the late 1950s. He married his wife, Nancy, an Royal Canadian Air Force nurse, while posted in Germany.
In 1962, he completed his flight instructor's course. "I used to envy Bob a lot because he loved his job so much," his widow said.
He retired with the notion of joining Air Canada but there were no openings, so he headed to Sydney and flew for Qantas, Australia's national airline. Less than two years later, Air Canada offered him a job. For the next 31 years, he flew as captain of the Airbus A-320, Boeing 767 and 727, and was chief instructor for the 727.
Along the way, Mr. MacWILLIAM helped design and implement the pilots' safety awareness program for Air Canada, a scheme that includes a system of anonymous incident reporting.
His expertise was also required when Transport Canada, through initiatives of Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and transport minister Otto Lang, came up with the idea that air traffic controllers should be bilingual. Mr. MacWILLIAM was appointed technical representative for the Canadian Airline Pilots' Association at a commission of inquiry. His report to members was unflattering.
"French is not the international language of the air," Mr. MacWILLIAM said. "Imposing the use of two languages into air traffic control... constitutes a degradation in the safety of the Canadian air traffic control system. To impose, for political reasons only, the use of another language into that environment is irresponsible."
His remarks made their way to the 1976 annual meeting of the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations, where they were endorsed by 65 member countries. Because of that, Canadian Airline Pilots' Association declared Canada's air traffic control system unreliable and on June 19, 1976, the pilots went on strike. Air traffic controllers had already declared job action and for nine days nothing moved at Canada's airports.
"Bob was my technical safety expert from 1974-78 when I was president of Canadian Airline Pilots' Association," said Ken MALEY, then a senior captain with Canadian Pacific. "Trudeau was interested in bilingualizing everything in Canada. Bob and I and the pilots wouldn't accept this idea. The issue festered for about 18 months and we drew the line and decided to close Canadian air space for safety reasons. I felt it wasn't safe for the pilots to fly when we didn't know if the air traffic controllers were working or not working."
On February 11, 1978, a Pacific West Airlines Boeing 737 crashed at the airport in Cranbook, British Columbia, while trying to avoid a giant snow blower. Forty-two people died and Mr. MacWILLIAM was made the senior technical adviser at the ensuing Dubin royal commission of inquiry. In his report, Mr. Justice Charles DUBIN criticized the Ministry of Transport for its procedures regarding clearing aircraft to land at airports that do not have a control tower. He also was critical of the fact that the company operating manuals and training did not inform pilots that once the "reverse thrust" was applied after landing, the throttles could not be advanced to take-off position for a "go around." Much of the technical data had originated with Mr. MacWILLIAM.
"The people involved with that inquiry thought the world of Bob," said Fred VON VEH, then legal adviser to transport minister Don MAZANKOWSKI.
In 1989, Mr. MacWILLIAM served a similar role after an Air Ontario Fokker F-28 jet crashed in Dryden in March of that year, killing 24 people. The plane had been headed for Winnipeg but crashed shortly after takeoff. It had sat on a runway under an accumulation of snow and then tried to get airborne. The crash prompted another royal commission, one headed by Mr. Justice Virgil MOSHANSKY.
The inquiry became the definitive study on the problems of deicing aircraft. Among its recommendations, the report said planes should be deiced at the gate holding area and then the process repeated before they queue for takeoff.
"Bob was very helpful... really smart. He brought a lot of expertise to the table," Judge MOSHANSKY said from Calgary.
After he retired, Mr. MacWILLIAM formed Macavia Aviation Consultants and was president of both the Canadian International Air Show and the Canadian National Exhibition.
Bob MacWILLIAM was born October 26, 1937, in Salisbury, New Brunswick He died of respiratory failure stemming from pulmonary fibrosis on July 22, 2005, in Toronto. He is survived by his wife Nancy, sister Valerie, daughter Barbara and sons Casey and Michael.

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