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Who will ultimately determine the fate of aerodromes?


By Kevin Psutka

When I took this job in 1996, the number one issue that occupied my time was aerodromes, from the right to have an aerodrome on your property to ensuring that a system of airports serving GA remains and that our sector continues to have access to larger airports with minimal fees and restrictions. 

After all these years, with new issues being introduced such as privatization of the air navigation system and the security aftermath of 9/11, aerodromes remains the number one issue facing COPA. 

We are now entering into an entirely new phase that has potential to undo many years of work and progress.

A project recently announced by Transport Canada proposes to take Canada in a new direction. The project is outlined in a Preliminary Issues Consultation and Assessment (PICA) document,  

http://wwwapps.tc.gc.ca/Saf-Sec-Sur/2/npa-apm/actr.aspx?id=7&aType=1&lang=eng, which is the first step in the process for regulatory change. 

In response to political pressures from several groups, including municipalities, issues arising from the development of several private aerodromes in the oil patch in Alberta as well as some notable legal challenges involving federal jurisdiction over aerodromes, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt decided to amend the Aeronautics Act and the regulations concerning registering (CAR 301) and certifying (CAR 302) aerodromes in order to ensure that consultation with local land use authorities and the public occurs whenever an aerodrome is contemplated or construction occurs. 

At this point, we do not know for sure the extent that this will affect registered and unregistered aerodromes, including existing ones, but we have submitted our comments to Transport Canada and demanded that extensive discussion with our sector of aviation occur before any amendments take place.

To this point in time, we have enjoyed a permissive environment, meaning that you have a right to establish an aerodrome and make improvements to it within certain provisions in law and regulation and without interference from provincial or local authorities. 

When disputes occurred mostly due to a lack of understanding about the concept of federal jurisdiction, they were resolved in a majority of cases by interpretations, sometimes by the courts and sometimes by Transport Canada officials. 

Thanks to COPA’s member-funded Freedom to Fly Fund and our efforts over many years, including recent wins at the Supreme Court of Canada, federal jurisdiction and your rights were preserved.

Transport Canada now wants to move to what they call “participatory decision making” to ensure that local land use authorities and the public have input and indeed a greater say in whether or not an aerodrome can be established and developed. 

This consultative approach has been in place in order to certify aerodromes (airports) but this is being extended to non-certified aerodromes. 

While COPA is not opposed to keeping local officials and the public in the loop (we speak in favour of this in our Guide to Private Aerodromes), fear and a lack of appreciation for the role our sector plays in society has made it necessary to protect and defend your rights in those situations where others just do not understand or have another agenda in play.

As they say, the devil is in the details. Since we are at the early stages of the regulatory change process, it remains to be seen where this issue will go. But COPA will be there at every opportunity to work toward a fair solution for our sector.

I met with Transport Canada officials in December to provide direct input on the extent of damage this initiative may cause if TC does not get it right. COPA’s formal input is in the form of a letter responding to the PICA and the details of our response can be found here.

On a related manner, TC recently released an Advisory Circular (AC) http://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/ca-opssvs/AC_300-009E.pdf to provide guidance to aerodrome owners, TC inspectors, local officials and the public when dealing with aerodrome issues. 

COPA’s reaction to this document, which was not consulted outside of TC, is contained in our response to the PICA.

The project to amend the regulations and the Aeronautics Act will take place over a period of three years and COPA will be up front to ensure that Transport Canada fully understands the impact this will have on aviation. 

In the near term, we have expressed our concern about the damage that the AC may do as local officials and not-in-my-backyards make demands for input and control. We will keep you informed as this issue progresses.