By Adam Hunt
Flight 8's meeting held in the end of February consisted of a briefing by COPA President and CEO, Kevin Psutka. It has been a number of years since COPA's President has given us an update on national issues, so there was a good turn out to hear what the priorities are.
Psutka started with a review of COPA membership numbers, indicating that the organization has seen its size shrink during the recent recession from a peak of about 18,500 paid members to its present 17,000. The year 2008 saw a 1.3% decline and 2009 a 2% loss. Psutka indicated this has been a common situation in previous economic recessions.
He further noted that COPA loses about a quarter of its members each year and usually gains a similar number of new members, although in recent years member retention has improved. He also pointed out that, as reported in COPA Flight recently, the private civil aircraft fleet has continued to grow, albeit slowly, through the recession, although there is no way to accurately tell how many aircraft are being actively flown.
Psutka explained that the number one issue in personal aviation today is the future of airports and aerodromes. The country has about 730 certified airports of which about 80 are served by scheduled airline service. The future of airports without scheduled service in Canada are in doubt, because Transport Canada has no policy or direction for these, except the flawed and outdated National Airports Policy (NAP).
The NAP is more than 15 years old and has not been updated or even reviewed in that time. It continues to state that the country's airport infrastructure is overbuilt and that most airports and aerodromes are not needed.
Psutka called on the government to review the NAP and come up with a more realistic policy for Canada.
Psutka went on to review the airport situation in some key locations around the country. He pointed out Edmonton as a particularly bad case, with city council having voted to close the City Centre Airport, Cooking Lake under active consideration for transfer from the Airport Authority to the tenants (although the tenants a do not seem to be keen on that plan), Villeneuve too far from the city and the International Airport virtually closed to non-airline traffic by restrictions on training flights and high landing fees.
In Toronto the airport situation is critical. Psutka pointed out that Buttonville will definitely close in the next few years, City Centre (Billy Bishop) is expanding to provide space for the airlines, but that will squeeze general aviation out and that there is no political will to proceed with the long-planned Pickering Airport.
In the next few years Toronto could be left with virtually no viable home for personal aviation and with Buttonville closing the large number of aircraft located there will have nowhere to be based in the area.
COPA has been advocating for relievers in the Toronto area, but so far no level of government seems to be taking the problem seriously.
Montreal also suffers from its share of airport issues, with Mascouche well on its way to being sold and redeveloped. Even though this contravenes the original deal by which the land was provided to the municipality, COPA received a legal opinion that pursuing this would not likely be successful.
At St Hubert Airport the city council voted to ban piston aircraft operations on Sundays and evenings, although the matter is still under discussion with an upcoming meeting scheduled. Another Montreal area airport, Mirabel, is open to general aviation and even has a new FBO in operation, but it has a $15 landing fee and is located far from the city.
Psutka noted that in recent cases in Quebec that federal jurisdiction over aerodromes has been confirmed by the courts, but the province has appealed the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case was heard on Oct. 14, 2009 and a decision is pending.
The outcome of this case will have serious repercussions on ownership of private aerodromes in Canada, whether the courts decide that the jurisdiction is federal or not or some compromise in between.
What Canada really needs, Psutka emphasized, is a complete review of the National Airports Policy and the creation of a national general aviation policy. To this end he explained that the government needs data on the contributions of general aviation to the economy. This is actually easy to do as the airline Electronic Collection of Air Transportation Statistics (eCATS) is now open for inputs from all aircraft owners and this data will be used to show the economic footprint of GA.
Aircraft owners are encouraged to submit estimates of their flying activity at least annually at http://www.tc.gc.ca/pol/en/ecats/genaviation/ga.htm.
The next subject of interest was 406 MHz ELTs. Psutka reported that after the regulatory process had been completed including compromises in the regulations to allow for alternatives to 406 ELTs, that the Department of National Defence circumvented the process and made a case directly to Treasury Board that all aircraft should be equipped with 406 ELTs.
The results of this have not been made public yet, but the Canada Gazette Part II pages on the subject should be published in the near future. COPA is working on contingency plans in case the government decides to require all aircraft to be equipped with these expensive and not particularly effective devices.
Psutka emphasized that COPA members should plan to carry another device, such as SPOT or a PLB to make up for the shortcomings of the 406 ELT.
The next topic was security. Psutka mentioned that flying to the USA has become more complicated as the U.S. Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) is now mandatory. He indicated that it isn't as bad as it seems, but that many people are reluctant to try it and therefore the numbers of U.S.-bound private flights have probably been reduced.
The issue of security also includes major international events held in Canada and the flight restrictions that come with them. The recent Winter Olympics are a good example, but there is an upcoming G8/G20 conference to be held in Ontario on June 25-27. The conference has been expanded to the point where it looks as though it will impact most of central Ontario from Toronto to Huntsville to North Bay and disrupt a lot of air traffic.
COPA Flight 8 thanks Kevin Psutka for taking time from his busy schedule at COPA HQ to come out to talk to us about current issues in aviation.