Don Douglas enrolled in the RCAF in London, Ontario, in October 1954. Selected for pilot training, he was given officer training at London and Centralia, Ontario.
Flight training was on Harvard aircraft in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and on T33 Jet aircraft at Gimli and MacDonald, Manitoba.
Based on a high standing in these courses, Don was selected to be a flying instructor.
He was given bush and arctic survival training before being sent to Trenton, Ontario, for flying instructor training. Instructor training was completed in July 1956, and he began instructing NATO students at Moose Jaw at the end of July 1956.
Instructing NATO students from various countries and cultures was a great learning experience, very interesting, and challenging. (Students were from the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Turkey, France, Greece, and second world war Luftwaffe pilots on refresher training when Germany was re-arming.)
In 1959 Don was posted to 2A0S Winnipeg to fly student navigators on training missions in C45 and C47 aircraft.
Leaving the RCAF with an Airline Transport Pilots License and Class 1 instrument rating, he flew commercially on aerial survey work, mostly in high arctic regions of Canada. Flying commercially in the north gave him the opportunity to experience daily problems faced by air carriers attempting to turn a profit while complying with complex regulatory requirements. This increased his credibility and effectiveness as a regulator and promoter of safe operating procedures.
In 1961 he joined the Aircraft Accident Investigation Division of Transport Canada as a Civil Aviation Inspector in Vancouver. From 1961 to 1965, Don investigated a wide range of aircraft accidents from the crash of a Martin Mars water bomber, soon after arriving in the region, to a Canadian Pacific DC6 blown up in flight near 100 Mile House enroute from Vancouver to Prince George. He was always a strong proponent of the team approach to aircraft accident investigation and thereby set a high standard of investigation.
Winning a national competition, he became Superintendent of Aircraft Accident Investigation for Western Region in September 1965 taking over at a time when the region was experiencing difficulties. Under Don’s leadership, accident investigation in Western Region developed to the point where it was recognized as the most effective in Canada. A strong team approach was used to achieve this high standard. While in Edmonton, he took a major course in Aircraft Accident Investigation at the FAA.
Academy in Oklahoma City as well as other courses on various aircraft including the DC9, Bell 47, and Bell 206 helicopters.
In 1972 he was promoted to Chief of Safety Research in the newly formed Aviation Safety Division in Ottawa. Here he was involved in and responsible for numerous safety projects arising out of safety recommendations by regional investigators.
In 1977 he won another competition and became Regional Controller Civil Aviation for Western Region. His duties now included a full range of regulatory and air navigation responsibilities. He kept an active interest in safety programs. In response to requests from small air carriers, particularly those in the north, he initiated an action plan and together with his Regional Aviation Safety Officer developed and conducted the first company Aviation Safety Officer course in Canada. The positive response to this course was overwhelming and it was implemented all across Canada. The course was honored with a National Transportation Week Award the year after it’s development. Don continued to be invited to speak at these courses all across Canada.
In 1979 Don conducted a study, in cooperation with George Legg of the Atmospheric Environment Service, to assess aviation weather and forecasting requirements in the Yukon. Their report prevented a threatened closure of the Yukon office, and in addition, resulted in significant upgrading to the Yukon forecast office.
Radar service was obtained in the Grand Prairie area three years ahead of schedule at a time when operators were being severely restricted under flow control delays at the height of the oil exploration boom.
In 1981, a committee headed by the Director General Civil Aeronautics stated, “The Committee judges Mr. Douglas to be the top ranking RCCA. Since he took over the Regional Controller position in Western Region, relations with the aviation community have improved considerably.”
On October 27, 1983, in recognition of contributions to aviation in northern Canada, he was made an honorary life member of the Northern Air Transport Association.
On November 1, 1983, Don became Director of Licensing and Certification in Ottawa. In this Job he was responsible for licensing matters, certification, and audit of air carrier operations. During this time he was heavily involved in ensuring a safe transition from rigidly regulated air transportation to a new environment of economic regulatory reform. He headed a team that produced the report “Aviation Safety in a Changing Environment.” Subsequently he testified at the Dryden Inquiry and was commended by the Honorable Virgil Moshansky for the quality of his testimony and contributions to aviation safety over the years.
On December 15, 1987, Don was appointed Regional Director Air Navigation System for Pacific region. Under his leadership, ANS Pacific Region developed a reputation for meeting difficult challenges in a very effective manner resulting in a high level of ANS user satisfaction.
Don initiated the Airside Capacity Enforcement (ACE) project to study the need for and develop justification to enhance capacity at Vancouver International Airport by constructing a parallel east west runway. The project and the subsequent environmental hearings, although extensive, difficult, and challenging, were successful. Clearing this hurdle was a necessary requirement toward obtaining the much needed runway capacity, access to Vancouver, and enhance efficiency and safety for air travelers.
Don also successfully coordinated a tree trimming and thinning project in John Deane Park near Victoria. Tree growth at the radar site had created serious deficiencies in radar coverage resulting in major traffic delays and safety concerns.
This required extensive negotiations to achieve consensus among various groups, including mayors; local, provincial, and federal politicians; environmental groups, four aboriginal bands, their chiefs, and elders; and miscellaneous interest groups. Approval of this project was a major accomplishment saving the Canadian taxpayer many millions of dollars that would have been required to move the radar site. Safety and efficiency was greatly enhanced at the same time.
In the summer of 1990, the proposed closure of Castlegar Tower became a high profile, controversial issue. For years it had been known that a strong lobby group was ready to prevent any attempt to close Castlegar Tower. This lobby group was so strong that there was some Headquarters reluctance to include Castlegar Tower on the list of closures as it was seen as a possible candidate for the “too hard” file. Don personally became involved in this issue and provided leadership and direction throughout consultation and implementation. This also included dealing with a federal court challenge by the West Kootenay Regional District. In the early stages of the process Don selected a closure date and carried out the detailed planning to achieve that date. Transition from control service to flight service station was achieved, on the chosen date, in a very effective manner. Minister Lewis advised Don personally in Ottawa on December 4, 1990, that the Castlegar transition from tower to FSS service was carried out more smoothly and more effectively than any of the other closures on the national list in 1990.
In 1991 Transport Canada Aviation reorganized. The role of regions was strengthened and Regional Director General positions were established. Don was appointed Regional Director General Aviation Western Region on April 1, 1991. On October 13, 1991, in Jasper, Alberta, he was presented with the Molly Reilly Memorial award for major contributions to the promotion of aviation in Canada and Alberta.
The Assistant Deputy Minister Aviation specifically asked Don to improve consultation and client relationships in Western Region.
Don achieved this task to the satisfaction of headquarters and regional clients in an expeditious manner.
Outstanding results were achieved in the region and because of extraordinary successes on many difficult projects, Don was invited to Ottawa to meet senior officials from headquarters and all regions to enable others to benefit by learning how these outstanding results were achieved.
Two letters typical of many pertaining to results achieved are attached.
Don retired from Transport Canada on February 9, 1996.
He was appointed Executive Director of the Northern Air Transport Association effective February 15, 1996.
The Northern Air Transport Association is an independent, non-profit organization incorporated in Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut to represent and work on behalf of Northern Air Carriers.
Don’s interest in Northern Air Carriers predates NATA. He was involved in conducting an annual symposium for Northern Air Carriers, produced annual “North of 60 Reports” for them and recognized the need for a strong, united voice.
He encouraged key carriers to consider forming an association. Considerable skepticism concerning this proposal existed. It was not an easy sell.
Eventually, with Don’s support, the idea gained momentum culminating in a founding meeting at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife to explore the proposal with potential members. Don was a panel member at this meeting. A decision was made to proceed. Bob Engle was elected first President and the first annual general meeting was held in Yellowknife at the Explorer Hotel on March 15, 1977. NATA’s success right from the outset confirmed the need and that the concept was supported by Northern Air Carriers.
Don monitored the progress and success of NATA over the years even when he was transferred to management position not directly involved with Northern Air Carriers. He has attended every NATA AGM except one, many times at his own expense.
Prior to Don’s retirement from Transport Canada, one of NATA’s founding directors approached Don in an attempt to convince him that NATA needed his expertise and commitment. The NATA board wanted Don to become NATA’s Executive Director. The board was anxious to benefit from Don’s obvious interest in the north, his broad aviation and managerial expertise, excellent reputation as a team player respected by the air carrier industry and his record of following through on commitments.
Don retired from Transport Canada on February 9, 1996, and became Executive Director NATA on February 15, 1996.
From the outset Don guided the NATA Board in operating an effective, cost conscious organization focused strongly on issues of unique concern to Northern Air Carriers and northern communities. Fees to members have never been raised during Don’s tenure. He has ensured and maintained constructive, effective and positive relations with the three Territorial governments, the media and other entities in the north. He is frequently called upon to assist in organizing special aviation events such as story telling at the Midnight Sun Floatplane fly In, the 100th anniversary of powered flight, air shows, training for northern aviation students, employment opportunities in the north, the Northern Aviation Heritage Foundation, the Yukon Transportation Museum’s Hall of Fame, northern scholarships, and nominations for induction into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. (Mike Zubko and others)
Don is regularly called on for advice and assistance on a multitude of aviation issues including controversial regulatory audits, which cause major operational and financial stress on affected member carriers.
The Northern Air Transport Association has made a major contribution to the success of Northern Air Carriers and has improved the quality of life and welfare of the northern communities served by its members.
Don Douglas’ contribution to the success of NATA throughout its 29+ years of service has been of outstanding significance.
On August 16, 1997, in Saskatoon, COPA presented Don with an appreciation award for “Over 40 years of Ongoing Dedicated Support to General Aviating, Aviation Weather and the North.”
On September 23, 2000, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Don was presented with the International Northwest Aviation Council President’s award for “Outstanding Leadership and Dedication to the Aviation Industry.”
In 2009 Don was made a member of the Order of Polaris by the Yukon Transportation Association at the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse.
Don is an Honorary Life Member of the Northern Air Transport Association (1983), a director of the International Northwest Aviation Council, a 50 year member of the Edmonton Quarter Century Aviation Club, the Edmonton Probus Club, and is an Honorary Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces.