By Peter Campbell, Director External Relations, Canadian Owners and Pilots Association

The past year has seen the Aviation Community hit hard by the Pandemic. Commercial air travel is a mere shadow of its former volumes. Many General Aviation (GA) pilots and recreational operators are flying a fraction of former activity rates.

As an aerodrome manager of a small GA airport, with no government funding and no active flight training, life is rather dull with virtually no air activity. There are no local or transient users buying fuel or stopping by for the services that exist. Most importantly, there is virtually no revenue covering the operating costs that continue unabated.

Some aerodrome operators have been able to tough it out, but others have not. The sources for revenue at these airports are few and typically are identified as YOU, the GA pilot. Raising fuel charges, parking fees, hangar fees, introducing or raising landing fees may seem like a good idea, but, in reality, these fees are subjective, illusionary even. Makes sense for the cash-strapped airport owner or manager, but what about the GA pilots and their freedom to fly?

Aerodromes who have implemented or increased landing fees have driven GA pilots away. Case in point is Owen Sound (CYOS), which implemented a rather steep $35 landing fee (including touch and go) in March 2021 and have seen a significant drop in activity since then. GA traffic is heading to nearby airfields that don’t use this revenue collecting tool. COPA advised CYOS management against the implementation and supported, and continues to support, the local group who have done an incredible job at proposing other revenue raising plans such as reopening the on-airport restaurant.

Both Mirabel (CYMX) and Dorval (CYUL) have decided to change the landing fees structure with very significant increases and are going from annual rates to per-use rates for all operators (for some, this equals an increase in excess of 400 per cent!

There are airports, such as Sudbury (CYSB), which are introducing access agreements for owner occupied hangers to access airside as their current funding base can’t support planned expenditures. In both these cases, hangar owners or renters have lease agreements, so it’s either pay up or move, but we’ll keep your money thank you! How’s that for freedom.

Aerodromes such as Dawson Creek, BC, (CYDQ), and Qualicum Beach, BC, (CAT4), decided to target their “captive audience” of hangar owners, who have invested years at these airports. Both airports revised their lease contracts with significant one-time increases and shorter con-tract terms, which of course are not acceptable. Luckily, the Dawson Creek hangar owners rallied and fought off the initial push through a legal challenge that has put a temporary stay on the increases, and at what cost?

With GA pilots under increasing pressure to pay more to operates from their home aerodromes or to fly to others we need to ask ourselves is this current “user-pay” model sustainable? The answer is no.

The recommended solution is to enhance the profile and the importance of these small GA aerodromes to the local community they serve. The mobility they permit and the economic impact GA has is well documented. Each one is a powerful engine of growth.

Those who got the message, such as Golden, BC (CYGE), are seeing the benefits. The larger role of these aerodromes in the overall network of Canadian aerodromes cannot be forgotten. The aerodrome operators, and their municipalities need to be supported financially by more than just the local residents, their hangar owners and the pilots that use the airports and the services available at them. If they are not supported, these airports will crumble, fall into disuse and will close.

COPA recognizes that we must advocate at the Federal and Provincial levels, but each COPA Flight and our members play a huge part locally. We need to nurture the relationship. That symbiotic relationship will show and bring more flyers over to use the services and facilities at each of our GA airports, including the community it serves, and will help confirm that their aerodrome is a valuable asset.

With hope in sight that we are nearing the end of this pandemic, it is time to double our work and revitalize our community aerodromes across this country. Aerodromes should be working with GA and assessing their needs so that both can remain sustainable.

(Photo: AGCuesta, Adobestock)