December 8, 2016

Uncertainty over Banff, Jasper airstrips resolved


Uncertainty over Banff, Jasper airstrips resolved


Long awaited amendments to the National Parks Aircraft Access Regulations were Gazetted (came into law) on February 13, meaning Banff and Jasper continue to be available for emergency/diversionary use and Jasper is available for non-commercial recreational use.

This is the end of a very long process which began in the early 1980s when an ambitious initiative was undertaken by Parks Canada (Four Mountain Parks Study) to review all activities in the parks and determine which ones they considered negatively impacted the environment and wildlife.

The study concluded that the airstrips in Banff and Jasper should be closed. Parks Canada began to charge pilots for landing because it was their contention that the park Superintendent had the authority to prohibit use of the strip. Court challenges launched by the Alberta Aviation Council in 1988 resulted in the dismissal of the charges.

COPA donated $2,000 toward the legal costs involved in challenging the regulations in court and also sent letters of support for retaining the airstrips to Transport and Parks Canada.

The uncertainty over the status of the airstrips continued, culminating in 1997 when the Aircraft Access Regulations were amended to formally remove the airstrips and charges were subsequently filed against area pilots for flying into Banff.

COPA was extensively involved in defending the pilots and advocating for and then participating in the very long Comprehensive Environmental Assessment Process that eventually led to a decision by the Parks Minister to reinstate the airstrips in the regulations.

Notwithstanding his decision and direction, additional advocating was required to ensure that the Minister’s orders were carried out.
Here are COPA Chair reports (English and French) by former chairman Bob Kirkby summarizing the issues, the process and progress toward our goals.

March 2009:
August 2010:
December 2011:

The Gazette announcement

(starting on page 321 ) confirms that the airstrips have been relisted and it details what is permitted at each airstrip.

The airstrips continue to be available for emergencies and diversions, as defined in the announcement, and pilots will need to contact the Park Superintendent for permission to leave either Banff or Jasper after landing there for an emergency or diversion. In addition, Jasper is available for non-commercial recreational use but a permit must be obtained.
The announcement mentions “installation of a booth for self-regulation and fee collection.” The announced fees are $5 per day, $50 annually for non-residents (those who are not from the area but will visit regularly) and $100 annually (including long term parking) for residents.

Parks Canada now has to amend the Canada Flight Supplement, produce education materials as mentioned in the announcement and install a self-registration and fee booth at Jasper. If you have any questions about the use of the airstrips, please contact Banff at 403-762-1510 or Jasper at 780-852-6155.

We hope to organize a fly-in at Jasper sometime this year to celebrate this achievement and will work with park staff. Keep an eye on our On The Horizon event calendar for details

We are also pleased to see that non-motorized paragliding and hang-gliding are permitted and that additional landing opportunities are provided in Nahanni National Park.

COPA’s longstanding concern was for the safety of the traveling public along two important mountain air routes. COPA proved, through a meteorological study (financed by COPA member donations to the Freedom to Fly Fund ) that unpredictable weather could trap pilots. Our concerns were opposed by environmentalists.

We are pleased to see some powerful statements in the announcement. “Studies determined that retirement-from-service of the Banff and Jasper airstrips would increase the risks to pilots and aviation.”

“Re-listing the Banff airstrip for emergency and diversionary aircraft use in combination with the implementation of the proposed management approach is expected to achieve the desired conditions associated with wildlife movement, predator/prey dynamics, grassland ecosystems and pilot safety.”

“Re-listing the Jasper airstrip for emergency and diversionary purposes and for use by non-commercial recreational aircraft will not result in significant adverse environmental effects at the local or regional scale, with the implementation of mitigation measures.”

Transport Canada remained in the background through this whole process, except for sending an observer during the environmental assessment process. Successive Transport Ministers maintained, despite strong evidence that reliever airstrips in the mountain passes were needed, that the decision regarding the need for the airstrips rested with Parks Canada. The safety of the traveling public was only assured by COPA and volunteers from other organizations, coupled with funding from our Freedom to Fly Fund.

At the risk of missing someone, I want to demonstrate to readers that it took considerable effort by many volunteers and organizations in support of COPA’s efforts. To be successful with the many issues that face our sector requires people to come forward.

Bryn Thomas and the late Dan Bowen from the Jasper Flying Club and Bernie Schiesser and Howard Srigley from the Banff Flying Club put themselves forward in court to test the prohibition on landing at the airstrips. With COPA’s Freedom to Fly Fund backing, we succeeded in putting the closures on hold and the court action was the catalyst for a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment (CEA) that demonstrated the safety need for the airstrips.

Participants in that process included the Jasper Flying Club (Bryn Thomas and Tom Bell), Banff Flying Club (Bill Clark), Bob Kirkby (COPA Director and Chair) as well as many COPA members who provided their emergency and diversion experiences as part of the Air Safety Risk Assessment portion of the CEA.

When Minister Baird directed that the airstrips remain open, the resulting draft of regulatory amendments were subject to a public comment period. There were many COPA members who took the time to provide their input. This was instrumental in backing up COPA’s position and likely had a key role to play in moving the draft to its final form.

Others who were involved in the effort include Bram Tilroe and Ken Beleshko with Aviation Alberta ; Richard Leavens and Monica Andreeff with the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment ; former Alberta Government Transport Minister and Premier Ed Stelmach and his staff; Members of Parliament Rob Merrifield, Myron Thompson and Blake Edwards, and legal counsel Shawn Beaver.

Special thanks goes to former COPA Chair Ken McNeill for his leadership and to former COPA Chair Bob Kirkby, who kept steady pressure on at the local level and continues to do great work in moving from the regulations to establishing the registration and park fee payment process at Jasper.

Thank you to everyone who came forward to help secure a future for these airstrips.