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A slate of uplifting news

 

By Francine Desharnais and Paul MacLellan

 

COPA Flight 60, the Halifax centred chapter, hosted its latest meeting in October. This chapter has been fighting hard to keep General Aviation going in Nova Scotia, and this time around, the discussions were filled with positive news. The added presence of COPA President Kevin Psutka also had a significant impact on the troops’ morale.

 

Chapter Captain Paul MacLellan started by reminding us of some of the Flight’s past accomplishments. COPA Flight 60 had successfully renegotiated landing fees for Halifax International – the Chapter currently pays a small yearly landing fee on behalf of General Aviation (as opposed to landing fees charged on individual flights).

 

The last fundraising was again successful, exceeding the amount required for the current and incoming year. Also, COPA was successful at eliminating Halifax as one of eight airports where Nav Canada has implemented additional fees. COPA Flight 60 made a successful case to cancel the fee for Halifax International, based on the lack of reliever airports in the area.

 

Chapter Captain Paul MacLellan has been busy over the past few months working on some issues near to the heart of local pilots. A list of fuel prices and landing fees for local airports has been compiled by the Flight. Paul took this list to the Sydney Airport Authority, Neil MacNeil. Sydney instituted landing fees for GA – the highest in N.S.

 

Armed with these statistics and COPA material on the economic benefits brought to a community by GA, Paul had a productive discussion with MacNeil, who was very receptive to the COPA plea. COPA Flight 60 is hoping that Sydney Airport will reconsider the landing fees, which would undoubtedly increase the number of visiting GA flights.

 

We also hear that a new FBO/Cargo facility will soon open at Halifax International, and that the facility will provide economical overnight parking, and possibly some outdoor parking space for General Aviation.

 

This is welcomed news for the local COPA community. Current aircraft parking options at Halifax International are very limited and economically prohibitive, which led to the exodus of local aircraft to airfields over 100 km away from Halifax.

 

The new facility would be a significant step forward in availability of parking space for General Aviation at this airport.

 

Paul MacLellan, accompanied by COPA National President Kevin Psutka and Treasurer Brian Chappell, also met with Jerry Stapleton and Tom Ruth of the Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA) on the issue of accommodation for General Aviation. HIAA has been receptive to the chapter’s plea, though no solution has been found so far.

 

As a reminder, the 2010 COPA annual fly-in will be in Summerside, PEI. Past COPA annual conventions at this location have always been successful, and the local flying community is looking forward to the new fly-in format.

 

A GA future at Shearwater? The rest of the meeting revolved around Shearwater Airport. There have been tremendous efforts over the past several years to maintain GA access to Shearwater Airport. Recent events are rekindling these efforts.

 

First, a little bit of history. Shearwater is the second-oldest military aerodrome in Canada, established back in 1918. The airport is located on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour, in what used to be the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Shearwater.

 

Following a base rationalization program in the mid-1990s, CFB Shearwater closed as a separate formation. The facility became the Shearwater Heliport, attached to CFB Halifax. Without further need for its longest runway, the surplus realty assets were transferred to a local development agency known as the Shearwater Development Corporation.

 

Between 1995-1999, the Shearwater Development Corporation tried to find tenants for the surplus land, but was unsuccessful. Only one-year leases were offered to tenants – understandably, no one was interested in investing in infrastructure for such a short period.

 

After the corporation ceased operation in 1999, DND resumed control of the property. In March 2002, the surplus lands were transferred to the Canada Lands Company (CLC). On March 17, 2002, COPA Flight 60 wrote a letter to the editor of the Halifax Harold protesting the loss of this valuable asset.

 

In April 2002, a committee called the Shearwater Aerospace Centre was formed to interface with CLC and industry, and facilitate a commercially-viable solution to retain the main runway that was part of the surplus land, and to provide commercial development in the area.

 

The committee was spearheaded by the late LCdr (retired) Bill Farrell, an ardent advocate for naval aviation and C.F.I. for the Shearwater Flying Club. Several meetings took place with CLC, but no progress were made.

 

In 2003, General Aviation was unceremoniously kicked out of Shearwater, along with the Nova Scotia Community College Aviation Institute and the Shearwater Flying Club. The reasons for this were never clear.

 

In November 2006, CLC issued a Request for Proposals for the Shearwater lands it owned. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to COPA Flight 60, a group of senior retired military officers was lobbying Ottawa to retrieve the Shearwater land it sold to CLC, arguing it would be the ideal place to base the standing contingency task force.

 

The effort, known as “Operation Sea Horse,” emphasized the strategic importance of Shearwater, due to its water, air and road access. They were ultimately successful.

In July 2006, in order to support the Shearwater Heliport Conversion Project, DND started reacquiring some of the originally surplus land. In 2008 and 2009, DND reacquired an additional 250 hectares of land from CLC. Shearwater’s longest runway, broken up in several land parcels, sold, and repurchased, is back in DND’s hands – albeit in need of significant work to be re-certified.

 

What is currently being done? A new committee, called the Shearwater Airport Revival Group, has recently formed. The intent of this new committee is to work with government and DND to reopen access to Shearwater to General Aviation.

In a letter dated Sept. 15, 2009, the committee contacted the office of the Minister of Defense, Honorable Peter MacKay, and has asked for the following:

 

- Details of the future use of DND land at Shearwater;

- Name of contact person with whom the committee may correspond;

- Agreement to develop a process whereby GA can return to Shearwater.

 

The request was limited to GA access, as per original intent of the committee. There is no intention to negotiate commercial access/use of the airfield.

 

As of Nov. 1, 2009, the Shearwater Airport Revival Group is waiting for a response from Hon Peter MacKay. Hon Peter Stoffer, Member of Parliament for Sackville–Eastern Shore, has called our Flight Captain twice to express his support. The provincial government was copied on the letter to MacKay, but has not yet replied.

 

Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has acknowledged the letter, and their CEO advises that “your plans do not conflict with anything HRM is working now, or may be planning for the future in this area”.

 

HRM has a Shearwater Planning and Advisory Committee which COPA was not aware of until recently. There is currently no COPA representation on this committee, but a request will be made to correct this oversight. HRM had been looking into building an artery road on the surplus land. This may still be possible since the reacquired land does not include a portion of the original surplus land along the shore of Morris Lake.

 

COPA National has been requested to assist the Shearwater Airport Revival Group. President Kevin Psutka attended the October meeting and reiterated his support. In addition, Psutka presented the results of a quick analysis on the status of GA in Halifax. His presentation, based on factual data from TC, reinforced the point that GA is sorely lacking facilities in the Halifax area and galvanized the audience.

 

The October meeting of COPA Flight 60 was filled with uplifting news, and the members left with hope that General Aviation may indeed have a future in the Halifax area.