Family of teen killed in glider accident petitions for mandatory collision avoidance system

·3 min read

The Calgary parents of a teen killed in a collision involving a glider and a tow plane last year want aircraft safety equipment that is mandatory in Europe to be made compulsory in Canada.

Adam Leinweber, 18, and his flying instructor Allan Wood, 68, died near Black Diamond when their glider collided with a tow plane on July 26, 2019.

An investigation by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) pointed to several possible factors for the collision. It noted that there was a malfunction with the tow plane's Flarm aircraft collision avoidance system (ACAS).

Such systems alert pilots to potential collisions, and are approved — but not mandated — in Canada.

However, Adam's family is hoping to change that.

"We would like to see legislation put in place that would require the use of collision avoidance systems on all civilian gliders and tow planes in Canada," said Bradley Leinweber, Adam's father.

"By the very nature of the activity, gliders are flying in close proximity with their tow planes, and there are usually other gliders in the area often trying to use the same thermals or wave lifts to gain altitude. And that's why we think it's important."

The clear blue sky

Adam was an air cadet with 604 Moose Squadron in Calgary, and was learning to fly gliders on his own time.

With 76 flights under his belt, and almost 27 hours of flying time, he was nearing his licence. In September, he was due to begin a physics degree program at the University of Calgary.

"He put his entire heart and soul into everything he did, but he also didn't take himself too seriously, and he approached everything he did with a sense of play," Bradley said.

He regularly attended his son's flights.

Submitted by Bradley and Martina Leinweber
Submitted by Bradley and Martina Leinweber

"I was always out there. Every day with him. He loved the freedom of it, he loved being up there without any engine noise, and he just loved being in the clear blue sky."

Sophisticated device

The day of the accident, the glider carrying the teen and his instructor was released from the tow plane at an unusual position.

The instructor did not relay this to the tow plane's pilot, who was unable to see the glider and made a left turn, colliding with it mid-air.

While there is no legal requirement in Canada to have ACAS installed, both the glider and the tow plane's system had Flarm airborne collision avoidance systems.

But on the day of the crash, the PowerFlarm Core installed on the tow aircraft was not working, the TSB report said. Bradley and his wife, Martina Leinweber, believe it could have alerted the pilot to the glider's location.

They are now lobbying Transport Canada with letters and the House of Commons with a drafted petition, E2889, that is open for signatures. As the family wrote on their website, they believe that if better safety protocols had been in place, "Adam would today be in the physics program at the University of Calgary and a glider pilot himself."

The E2889 petition asks that an ACAS be required for privately owned glider aircraft and tow planes in Canada in an effort to prevent mid-air collisions.

"We need 500 signatures for this to be presented to the House, and then after it is presented to the House, the government will have 45 days to prepare a response to it," Bradley said.

"The next steps are to get as many people lobbying the minister as possible … by sending an email and preferably by going on and signing the petition, and we'll have to see what the government response to that petition is and take it from there."