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Update on the Banff and Jasper airstrips

 

It has been over a year since I last gave you an update on the Banff and Jasper Airstrips situation. Nothing has happened in the last year, until now. Since it has been awhile I will review the background briefly.

When Parks Canada closed the Banff and Jasper airstrips in 1997 COPA challenged them in court. We were successful in forcing Parks Canada to complete a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment (CEA), including an Air Safety Risk Assessment, before being permitted to fully close the airstrips. In a second court case we were again successful in keeping the airstrips open for emergency and diversionary use, until a final decision could be made by the Minister of the CEA.

The CEA was completed in 2006 and it took until March 2008 for the Environment Minister to make a decision. On March 14, 2008, Minister John Baird announced that both airstrips would be retained by Parks Canada for emergency and diversionary use by pilots and their passengers travelling through the Rocky Mountains. In addition he announced the Jasper airstrip would be available for recreational use under a permit system.

This was indeed good news but it was not to go into effect immediately. Parks Canada had to do two things before the Minister’s directive would be fully implemented. The first was for each of the two Parks to amend their Park Management Plans to reflect this directive. This would take place during the upcoming management plan review which was finally completed and made public two years later in June of 2010. The management plans did correctly reflect the Minister’s directive.

The second step was for Parks Canada to amend its National Parks of Canada Aircraft Access Regulations http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-97-150/page-1.html (NPAAR). This is a regulation that sets out the conditions under which an aircraft may take off or land in a National Park or Reserve. It also lists all acceptable landing sites and this had to be amended to include Banff and Jasper. Such amendments to regulations have to go through the government’s gazetting process. They are first published in Canada Gazette Part I and for the following 30 days the public is permitted to submit comments on the amendments. Parks Canada then reviews those submissions and may or may not make changes as a result. The final versions of the amendments are then published in Canada Gazette Part II, after which they are passed into law.

This year, the NPAAR amendments we have been waiting three years for were finally published in Canada Gazette Part I on October 1. To our surprise and disappointment they did not accurately reflect Minister Baird’s directive of March 2008.

The Minister’s directive to make the Jasper airstrip available for emergency/diversionary use and for recreational aviation was correctly represented in the amendments. However, the directive to make the Banff airstrip available for emergency  nd diversionary use was not represented at all. Instead, an amendment was included stating that an aircraft can land anywhere in a national park in an emergency situation.

This, of course, is covered in the CARs anyway and the amendment just makes Parks Canada compliant with the CARs. hen questioned about the Banff airstrip not being included, Parks Canada responded that this was covered by the above “anywhere in a park” amendment.

This is completely unacceptable. COPA responded to the Canada Gazette Part I explaining why this is unacceptable and stating what had to be included in the amendments to comply with Minister Baird’s directive.

The Banff airstrip must be identified in the NPAAR as a registered aerodrome available for emergency and diversion use. Without this it would only take a stroke of the pen to remove the airstrip from the next update to the Banff Park Management Plan and this important safety net for mountain flyers would be lost forever. Click here for COPA’s response.

So, for now nothing has changed. If you are flying along the Yellowhead or Bow Valley VFR routes through the Rocky Mountains these two airstrips are currently available for emergency and diversionary use. Please note that the Jasper airstrip is not yet available for recreational use. But stay tuned, COPA continues the battle.

Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning.