Belnan Aerodrome – A sign of the times


For those members who took the time to respond to the serious threat to the development of aerodromes that manifest itself in the issue at Belnan, Nova Scotia, we thank you. We believe this effort preserved our right to develop aerodromes.

The issue developed when Jim Johnston, owner of Vision Air, wanted to establish an aerodrome on a property he purchased not far from the Halifax airport. His basic goal was to establish a heliport for his operation, but he also recognized there is a need for a Personal Aviation airport for Halifax, given that Personal Aviation has been chased out of Halifax and Shearwater airports which no longer seem interested in establishing hangar facilities or a ramp area for small aircraft, leaving the next suitable airport unacceptably far away.

Johnston investigated the possibility of establishing an airstrip and even sub-dividing the property into residential lots with hangars. He received the okay from Halifax airport management and Nav Canada that his plan would not interfere with operations there. His plan was reviewed by Transport Canada for any safety issues and they found none. So, he decided to proceed.

What he was not prepared for was the resistance he received from local residents who are opposed to aviation in any form in their backyards.

COPA became involved when the opponents decided to take a political route to stopping Johnston and they focussed on the Aeronautics Act with a desire to make changes in order to give local interests control over the establishment of any aerodrome.

COPA has fought long and hard, including going to court with our Special Action Fund, to defend the concept of federal jurisdiction over aviation. The basis of our position is that no municipal or provincial bylaws, zoning, building codes or other mechanisms can be used to stop an aerodrome from being established anywhere outside of the built-up area of a city or town.

This concept permits land owners to establish an aerodrome and develop facilities in support of the aerodrome, such as hangars, paved strip and fuelling. The right does not extend to non-aviation development on the property, such as Johnston’s plan to create a residential development.

The local opponents brought the matter before the municipality, who passed a resolution to not only prevent Johnston from sub-dividing his property but also, in so many words, forbid him from establishing an aerodrome.

Recognizing his rights, Johnston said he was proceeding with a down-sized version of his plan. The local residents took the issue to Ottawa, prompting the Minister of Transport Lawrence Cannon to state in the press that he would “intervene.”

COPA went to work with the Minister’s staff to clarify Cannon’s intentions and to remind him of the federal jurisdiction and land owner rights. It was clarified that the Minister did not intend to intervene with any intent to prevent Johnston from establishing an aerodrome and his staff was instructed to make this clear to all parties and encourage them to work out a compromise for what activity, besides an aerodrome, could be permitted.

The issue culminated in a meeting held at Transport Canada’s office at Halifax Stanfield Airport between COPA, represented by Director Brian Chappell, Vision Air, representatives from the citizens committee, a representative of the Provincial MLA, and Hants East council, regional staff from Transport Canada and municipal planning people.

Although Transport Canada has stated they will not prevent the establishment of an aerodrome, they also stated they are neither for nor against the aerodrome. There also remains strong opposition from the local residents. Consequently Johnston is now seeking a compromise by establishing only a ramp, hangar, office, etc. as necessary for his helicopter operation.

In an effort to accommodate remaining concerns, a land swap option is also being explored for a property nearby but further away from houses as his current property is. The alternative property is not suitable for an airstrip.

It is a shame so much misinformation and fear of aviation by the uninformed may result in this much-needed airstrip not being built. It highlights the need for every member to be proactive at every opportunity to educate the public about who we are and the affects, or lack thereof, our aircraft have on people’s lives as well as the benefits aviation brings to a community.

COPA has several tools to help in this effort. Just click on “Flying in Canada” on our website for links to a Guide to Public Airports and a brochure entitled “Your Community Airport – An aviation Gateway.” The brochure can be printed or you can contact our office for copies to be mailed to you. Take the time to get involved in order to help build a better attitude toward aviation everywhere.