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Calgary family still fighting for flight changes after son’s 2019 death in glider crash

A Calgary father has been frustrated by the “circular reasoning” of Transport Canada in connection with an aircraft crash that killed his son 30 months ago.

But Bill C-259, recently tabled in Parliament by a Calgary MP, would close a gap they feel is left in flight safety.

Calgary teen Adam Leinweber was 18-years-old when he and his instructor, Allan Wood, were killed. The glider aircraft was struck by a tow plane on July 26, 2019, at the Cu Nim Gliding Club in Black Diamond, Alta. 

According to the Transportation Safety Board report on the crash, the glider was released from the tow plane halfway through a medium bank turn. Typically, a glider will release from the towline when both aircraft are in straight and level flight, but the tow plane pilot was not aware of the release. By releasing in a right turn, the glider was not in a position where the tow pilot would normally expect to see the aircraft.

The tow plane then entered a slight right turn in an effort to find the glider. Still unable to see it, the tow plane pilot completed a 90 degree left turn and the collision was imminent. There was no procedure to follow if visual contact was lost.

“There was no attempt to communicate with the glider to determine its position,” the report said.

“The tow plane’s propeller struck the glider’s empennage. The time between the glider release and the collision was 34 seconds.”

Ongoing battle to change legislation

Bradley Leinweber, Adam’s father, launched Petition e-2889 to convince the government to mandate ACAS. The petition was tabled in Parliament on March 10, 2021. 

Nearly three years after Adam’s death, the Leinweber family has faced a constant battle as they seek legislation.

“After the Transportation Safety Board report was issued, we found out that the tow plane’s FLARM had been malfunctioning since March of that year,” Leinweber said.

PowerFLARMs are an aircraft collision avoidance system that emits a signal if another similarly equipped aircraft is nearby.

“As soon as we discovered that this equipment was not mandatory, that’s when we decided that we had to do something to make this safer for the people that would come afterward,” he said.

Leinweber sought out Transport Canada to change the regulations to require collision avoidance systems and their functionality, but they declined.

“Every day is hard for my wife, Martina, and I,” Leinweber said.

“It’s frustrating, the steps that we’ve had to go to hopefully see this thing through. We’ve gotten a lot of circular reasoning from Transport Canada as to why they didn’t want to do this.”

Amendment to Aeronautics Act

Stephanie Kusie, the MP for Calgary Midnapore, put forward Bill C-259 in the House of Commons on March 24, 2022. 

C-259 would amend Aeronautics Act. The legislation would ensure that all aircraft are equipped with aircraft collision avoidance systems (ACAS). It would also ensure all ACAS mechanisms remain functional. 

“The private Member’s bill that I tabled … was a result of there having been 30 confirmed incidents or near-misses involving gliders, three of which resulted in fatalities and nine which involved commercial aircraft, since 2010,” Kusie said.

While it’s common for planes and gliders to be equipped with such a system, the bill would make it a requirement. It’s mandated in France, but not in Canada.

Blind spots

Leinweber said pilots rely on the “see-and-avoid principle.”

The TSB report said pilots should constantly be aware of traffic around them at all times, but neither pilot saw the other aircraft in time.

“[See-and-avoid] is the basic method of collision avoidance for VFR flights that is based on active scanning, and the ability to detect conflicting aircraft and take appropriate measures to avoid them,” the report said.

Leinweber said that aircraft have blind spots. The human eye has a natural blind spot. Technology is the only way to compensate for that.

“You can see how that argument goes in circles and we find the resistance to be quite frustrating,” he said.

FLARMs aren’t just for collision avoidance, Leinweber said. A glider crashed near Invermere in July 2020. FLARM was used as a locator and contributed to the rescue of the pilot who experienced an in-flight medical emergency.

“Airborne collision avoidance systems (ACAS) offer the potential to significantly reduce the risk of mid-air collisions,” the TSB report stated.

The legacy Adam left behind

Adam Leinweber at the Stampede Parade in 2019. Adam is pictured with children from Tecumseh Tae Kwon-Do who looked up to and loved Adam, and he in return. COURTESY OF MARTINA LEINWEBER

Adam Leinweber was involved in a multitude of activities. He discovered his love of flying when he joined Air Cadets. Adam shared a passion for Taekwon-Do with his dad since he was five years old. 

“Adam cared about so much in life. He cared about science, physics. That’s what he was going to go into at university,” Leinweber said.

“He really threw himself into that in school … but he cared about Taekwon-Do and our club, he cared about his cadets.”

Adam liked to play the drums. Leinweber said he threw himself into everything he did. Not because he felt he had to come out on top, but because he had to do the absolute best that he could do at anything he tried.

“What was really impressive is what Adam didn’t care about. He didn’t care if someone was male or female or LGBTQ, it didn’t matter to him if you were Black or Asian or Muslim. He didn’t care if someone was a genius or intellectually challenged, (or) if they were a senior or a toddler. He treated everybody with respect, he would talk to everybody as an equal,” Leinweber said.

Two scholarships in the University of Calgary physics program have been established in Adam’s name. 

Positive response in the House of Commons

While Bill C-259 was presented in the House of Commons, it still has several steps before receiving royal assent.

Kusie said the response in the House was very positive. Fellow members recognized ACAS as a useful tool that will save lives. 

“I was very moved by [the Leinwebers’] emotional story. In particular, as a mother, the possibility of losing anyone that you love as a result of something that could’ve been avoided,” Kusie said.

“I just felt compelled to finish what I started for the Leinweber family and carry out my commitment to table this legislation in the House of Commons.”

Kusie suggests that anyone who feels strongly about this issue should write a letter to Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra. 

Leinweber and his family would like to see action taken to prevent tragedies similar to theirs.

“It’s a matter of safety. Lives have been lost because of this lack of regulation,” Leinweber said.

“I think the major barrier that we see to getting this legislation passed is the same thing that got Adam killed. It’s apathy and indifference,” he said.