A year ago, on March 14, 2008, then Minister of the Environment John Baird announced a long-awaited decision on the status of the Banff and Jasper airstrips.
The Minister’s decision was to keep the Banff airstrip open for emergency and diversionary use but recreational and commercial use would not be permitted.
The Jasper airstrip would also be kept open for emergency and diversionary use, and recreational use would be permitted but not commercial use.
Since 1997 COPA and the local flying clubs have been working diligently to convince Parks Canada and the Minister of the Environment to retain both airstrips. Your Special Action Fund has been employed successfully to fund three court actions, a Meteorological Study and on-going legal consultation.
Hundreds of COPA members have rallied to support our position during three public consultations, by providing data for the Air Safety Risk Assessment, and by informing our Members of Parliament of the need to retain these critical mountain airstrips.
When we announced the Minister’s favourable decision this time last year we also told you it would take some time for Parks Canada to implement the decision. It didn’t come as a surprise that the prime movers behind the push to close the airstrips, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), launched a court challenge over the Minister’s decision.
They brought up all their old arguments and demanded a judicial review of the Minister’s decision. This of course caused everything to be put on hold while Parks prepared to defend the Minister. Fortunately CPAWS decided to withdraw their application in October which opened the way for Parks to continue after a six month delay.
COPA and your Special Action Fund remain engaged to ensure that the Minister’s decision is carried out. We have met with the Executive Director of the Four Mountain Parks, Ron Hallman, who is responsible for implementing the changes necessary to officially reopen the airstrips, and we have offered our assistance and cooperation during this process.
As we understand it Parks must modify their Management Plans for the two parks to reflect the new on-going use of the airstrips. These Management Plans are considered policy documents by Parks so this is considered a critical step.
The plans are currently undergoing a periodic update and the airstrip changes will be incorporated during this updating process. The Management Plan updates do go through a public input stage where there is potential of more objections.
COPA will inform you when the Management Plans are available for comment so that you can provide your input. This entire process will take several months.
Following this, amendments to the National Parks Aircraft Access Regulations (NPAAR) must be made to add both airstrips in the list of acceptable landing areas within National Parks. This stage will take several more months. I hope Parks Canada will overlap these two activities.
According to the NPAAR the Superintendent of any Park that has an airstrip must give permission for it to be used, other than for legitimate emergencies or diversions. During this lengthy process Parks Canada will work out a permitting procedure for recreational use of the Jasper airstrip. They have stated COPA will be consulted on this to ensure the procedure is workable for pilots.
Once all this work is done they will be ready to update the Canada Flight Supplement and the VFR Navigational Charts to accurately reflect the availability of the airstrips and the conditions of use. If you think all that is going to get done before this time next year you’re more optimistic than I.
During the implementation period, Parks Canada has committed to keep both airstrips available for emergency and diversionary use, as currently stated in the CFS. If you should have to use either airstrip for these reasons remember to contact the local Parks office to report your landing (the phone number should be posted at the airstrip or look in the CFS). The wardens will be happy to assist you and they will issue a permit for you to take off again once the condition forcing your landing has been resolved.
Please do not land at either airstrip unless you have a real emergency or a real need to divert due to weather or turbulence. In spite of the Minister’s decision Jasper will not be available for recreational use until Parks Canada has completed the steps described above and the CFS is updated with the necessary instructions.
Stay tuned for more news as it develops. Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning.