June 15, 2023

Buttonville Airport to close

Jon Robinson

Aviation journalist and pilot Phil Lightstone on approach to Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport. (Photo: Phil Lightstone)

— By Phil Lightstone

On May 31, 2023, the operators of the Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport (CYKZ) announced, that on November 30, 2023, Buttonville will be closing. The Buttonville Airport, located at the junction of Highways 404, 407 and 7 has been operated as a private aerodrome since its founding in 1953. It was created by Fred Gilles as a grass strip and became an official airport in 1963.

Buttonville airport today focuses on commercial, General Aviation (GA) and Business Aviation (BA) activities. In fact, Buttonville is exceptionally GA friendly. The GA environment was further enhanced by the activities of the Buttonville Flying Club (COPA Fight 44).

In 2009, the Sifton family, owners of the airport, announced plans to re-develop the airport into a mixed use of residential, commercial and retail developments. In 2010, the airport announced that a joint real estate venture had purchased the airport property. The past 13 years saw a roller coaster ride for tenants at the airport with closure plans being discussed and then shelved to a then yet to be determined future date.

During 2023, tenants saw airport improvements being made by the operator, suggesting that the airport had three to five more years before closure. The announcement on May 31, 2023, including a hard closing date, was unexpected but not surprising.

The impact of the closure is far more reaching than just aircraft owners who park their aircraft at CYKZ. Large tenants like Canadian Flyers (a flight school), York Regional Police’s air service, maintenance shops like Air Partners, Aviation Unlimited and Leggat’s, will be making hard decisions over the next few weeks.

During the first closure announcement, Aviation Unlimited constructed a large hanger at Oshawa Municipal Airport, moving its sales, aircraft hangarage and administrative resources. Itinerant aircraft flying into Buttonville to attend business meetings, vacation, tourism and other commercial endeavours will have to adjust their plans re-vectoring to other airports in the Greater Toronto Area.

TorontoAir Inc., the operator of Buttonville airport is reported to have at least 178 tenant rental contracts in place. Some contracts have multiple aircraft, such as the flight school which operates 10 aircraft. It is estimated that there may be at least 300 aircraft at Buttonville. The Economic Impact of General Aviation in Canada (2017) report indicates that the Canadian national average of GA aircraft fly roughly 21 hours per year.

With many in the pilot community aging and some flying infrequently, a reaction to the closure will be pilot/owners selling their aircraft. Some pilot-owners speculate that that number could be as high as 20 per cent. There are seven airports within a one-hour drive of CYKZ, including: CYYZ, CYTZ, CYOO, CNC3, CZBA, CLA4 and CPB9. A brief survey of these airports finds some hangarage and tie-downs available. A heated hangar space at CYTZ for a Piper Cherokee sized aircraft costs $1,750 per month, plus automotive parking ($250 per month), plus landing fees and taxes. That same Piper Cherokee in cold storage at CYKZ was $650. There is no cold storage available at CYTZ.

“GA airports like Buttonville are a bridge to economic success for the region and Canada,” says Mark van Berkel, President and CEO of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA). “I believe that the public does not appreciate the jobs and economic contribution that an airport like Buttonville brings to the region. It saddens me that when an airport closes, part of something great is going away.”

Only time will tell what impact the Buttonville announcement has on the Greater Toronto aviation community. Will there be a mass exodus of aircraft to the U.S. or other parts of Canada? Will Cadillac Fairview postpone the November 30 closing until they are proceeding with shovels in the ground to develop the lands into light industrial and a strip mall? Some pilots are focusing on a strategy of hope for the best, but plan for the worst.