A Decade Of Achievements, But The Fight Continues On

Bob Kirkby


This past year marked the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A decade of many achievements for COPA and some disappointments. But all things considered a very significant decade to kick off the second century of aviation.

I couldn’t think of a more fitting end to this decade than the favourable Supreme Court decisions handed down on October 15th, 2010. It took a decade for these two cases to wind their way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

COPA became involved in the first of the two cases in 1999. To say it was a long time coming is an understatement since COPA has been struggling with the issue of Federal jurisdiction over airports and aerodromes since 1952.

It feels really good to have the highest court in the land affirm our position.

One of the biggest challenges we are facing now and for the foreseeable future is the threatened closure of airports. For the most part the airports under threat of closure are owned by municipal authorities large and small.

Whether an airport is owned by a small town, city, county or even a province, there is increasing pressure to put that valuable land to use for a more revenue-producing alternatives, or so it is perceived.

COPA argues that this is almost always very short-sighted and generally arrived at because the municipality has not done its homework and identified the true value of its airport to the community.

There are 14 authoritative airport economic impact studies on COPA’s website for airports all across Canada which clearly demonstrate that the economic value of an airport to a community exceeds the costs by a very wide margin.

None-the-less we are seeing airports closing across the country because funding is being withdrawn or alternate use advocates have a louder voice on city councils.

Unfortunately the Supreme Court judgment does not do much to help arguments for keeping municipal airports open. This must remain an economic and benefits argument.

I like to look at this from a different perspective. When municipally owned airports either close or, in the case where they are run as valued community assets, reach capacity, the privately owned airports then become the lifeline for personal aviation.

The right to establish and operate a privately owned aerodrome or airport is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government, and this is what has been soundly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.

Of course for most of us buying that long-coveted aircraft is as much as we can afford. The prospect of building even a grass strip and hangar for it is out of the question.

But there are hundreds of private airports across the country. Many are owned and/or operated by groups of aircraft owners or flying clubs that have come together for that purpose. Many lease the land from private land owners or municipalities.Some such groups own the land outright.

In some cases airport stakeholders have taken over ownership or operation of an airport because they have an investment in it, like a hangar, and the municipality has pulled out and threatened closure if the airport is not taken over.

Whether a privately owned/operated airport is started from scratch with the intent of servicing personal aviation or taken over from a municipality, the recent Supreme Court decisions are just what we need to reduce interference by local regulators and encourage growth.

Publicly owned airports are for the most part public use airports. Privately owned airports on the other hand can be for private use or public use, depending on the preference of the owner(s).

We must continue fighting to keep publicly owned airports open but it is also becoming more important than ever to encourage more private groups or individuals to open up privately owned airports for general use by our sector and look towards further development.

Our Guides to Private Aerodromes and Public Airports provide some useful tips on opening and running facilities for private or public use.

Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning.