Adventure Log – Abbotsford International Airport

What do you think of when you hear Abbotsford? I think of open space, farms, cows, and not much else going on.

I’m on a quest to visit all airports in the lower mainland (ok, maybe except YVR, because they charge $35 landing fee, not including parking), so yesterday, on my routine recency flight, I decided to visit Abbotsford.

Abbotsford is technically an international airport, but I mean, who the heck from out of this country will ever have a reason to visit Abbotsford?! So I was expecting there to be practically no traffic, with the tower guy sitting in an armchair sipping coffee and directing traffic with a handheld radio and binoculars.

Turned out it was probably the busiest approach I have flown in Canada.

I was coming in from the west (Boundary Bay), at about 2400 ft. Checked ATIS. Runway 25 was in use. Everything sounded normal.

Then I called Abbotsford Outer Tower over checkpoint POPPY.


“Diamond FENF, standby.”

Huh, what the heck is standby? Just kidding, I know what it means, but I have never heard it in Canada till now. Last time I heard it was trying to transition through San Francisco International airspace (SFO is one of the busiest airports in the US).

In Canada, class C airspace requires ATC clearance to enter, and they give out clearances implicitly (instead of telling you something like “Cleared into Class Bravo” like in the States). I wasn’t really sure if “standby” counts as a clearance, so I decided to fly it safe and circle POPPY while waiting for the controller to get back to me. In the States, a standby actually counts as a “clearance” into Class C since 2-way communication has technically been established (which is a Class C entry requirement) when he addressed me using my callsign.

5 minutes of circling ensued while he directed a bunch of traffic all over the place. There were at least 4 airplanes in the pattern, and a few waiting to get in, one on a simulated localizer approach. Oh, and 2 helicopters.

Eventually I was cleared into right downwind for Runway 25. Huh? Right downwind? I checked the book before the flight (yes I actually do that), and it says Runway 25 is left pattern. Hmm.

We were cleared right downwind, with altitude restriction not below 2000 ft, north of Highway 1 (thanks to Tree, my kidnappee, for spotting the highway for me!), and contact inner tower for sequencing. That was about 2 miles from the runway. Yeap. Felt like a 747.

About mid-field downwind, inner tower cleared us down to 1500 ft but not below, and we were 4th to land, following a Cessna on LEFT downwind. Ah! That’s why. They were using both traffic patterns. Holy crap.

The problem is, I was flying a 2 miles wide pattern, and the Cessna was flying a 2 miles wide pattern, so there was 4 miles between us, and I could not spot the Cessna no matter how hard I tried.

I told ATC “negative contact with the traffic” twice, and still never saw the Cessna. I only turned base when ATC told us the Cessna is well ahead. In hindsight, I probably should have asked him to call my base.

Turned final, and finally “altitude restriction removed, descend at discretion for landing”. Since ATC told me the Cessna is “well ahead”, I decided to do a fast powered descent at ~100kt, to make the guy behind me’s job easier.

Turned out that was not a very good idea. When I was on about 1 mile final, I noticed the Cessna has just passed the threshold, and I was very close. So I tried to slow down FAST. Problem is DA20s are so well designed that they really don’t want to slow down without flaps, and I was well above the maximum flap extended speed.

I thought about going around, which probably would have been a good idea, but hey, I had about 5 seconds to make that decision, while trying to control the plane in crazy crosswind and configuring it for landing.

I flew the last part of the approach as slow as I could (which is @#$^@#%ing difficult because of the crosswind), and ended up landing uneventfully, touching down while the Cessna was rolling off the runway.

ATC told us to turn right on Taxiway D no delay. He said “no delay” 3 times. I was taxi-ing at probably something like 50km/hr already. If I taxi-ed any faster I probably would have taken off again. Another personal record broken – fastest taxi.

It’s good that I printed off the airport diagram from their website, which was super helpful.


The ground controller was a lot more chill. I asked for someplace to park for 30 minutes because I REALLY needed to go to the washroom, and he taxi-ed me to park near the tower.

Turned out the only washroom I could find was in the terminal, and I had to run about 1 km to the terminal, and 1 km back. On the bright side, I got all the exercise I need for the day.

The departure was nice and easy since traffic has died down. We took off from Runway 19, for a northbound departure.


This flight was very interesting. It definitely changed my impression that all Canadian airports are nice and chill. This one was obviously not.

I’m pretty happy with how I did, though. It’s typical flying in busy airspace, and I’m glad I had quite a bit of experience in that thanks to having done my training in the busy airspaces of San Jose and San Francisco. ATCs talking super fast, combining 10 things into 1 transmission, and always assigning headings and altitudes.

They just assume the pilots know exactly what they are doing.

It was fairly stressful with so many things happening at the same time, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. Always know what’s going on and thinking ahead. Always within 100 ft of assigned altitudes and 5 degrees of assigned headings.

The simplicity of the airplane definitely helped. I flew the DA40 a while ago and that went a lot worse. I think I was distracted by all the fancy instruments and wasn’t thinking ahead or looking outside enough. Maybe I’m not ready for complex airplanes yet, and should get more experience flying simple airplanes first. I think I’m over-estimating my ability to keep track of a million things inside the cockpit while flying the airplane.

But overall, that was a lot of fun! I think I’ll keep going there once in a while to practice operating in busy airspaces.

PS. Thanks to Tree for kidnapping herself and joining me on this flight! That is a lot of pictures…