Around 150 residents turned out to a town hall meeting regarding the Oshawa airport, and many of them spoke out against the increasing traffic at the city’s aviation hub, berating officials for a lack of openness regarding planning and future considerations.
The meeting, hosted by the Airport Community Liaison Committee on Dec. 5, was meant to address a number of issues and topics surrounding the Oshawa Executive Airport including an update on the progress of the city’s plan for the south field, information about a trail system near the airport, and details about the impacts of the emerald ash borer on trees around the airport and other parts of the city.
However, it was clear early in the meeting that many of those in attendance weren’t really interested in these topics, going as far as interrupting one of the speakers and cutting their presentation short as they continued to demand answers to questions around the increased traffic and noise at the airport.
The main sticking point for residents was the fact that over the next couple years, air traffic at the Oshawa airport is expected to increase to more than 100,000 movements annually, more than double the 2014 numbers of 51,758. A large impetus for that increase is the closure of the Buttonville Airport sometime in the next couple years. It’s estimated the airport saw approximately 71,500 movements this year.
Residents who took to the mic to speak felt that the airport was being run like a business, drawing more and more traffic without a thought to how it was impacting surrounding residents.
Airport manager Stephen Wilcox disputed this claim, noting that the numbers are simply projections based off a growing region and the increase in air travel. He noted the airport is not in the business of outwardly trying to drum up more traffic. With that said, under laws set by Transport Canada, the final authority on everything aviation in Canada, airports are not allowed to limit air traffic on their runways.
“We don’t have any authority to say they can’t,” Wilcox said of planes looking to use the airport. “It’s just a forecast, it’s just what we expect…not a goal we’re trying to generate.”
The airport manager also pointed to a number of actions the airport and council have taken in an attempt to keep the airport movements from getting out of hand, including a council resolution not to pursue passenger airlines at the airport, and the decision to not allow any more flight schools operating out of the Oshawa airport.
Currently, two flight schools call the airport home and operate approximately 45 training aircrafts. Wilcox also espoused the financial benefits of the airport, highlighting its $410,000 operating budget, and the fact that they will be making cuts for the coming year, as well as the $1.5 million in property taxes the buildings at the airport generate.
However, residents weren’t convinced.
“There has to be some sort of compassion here,” said resident Chris Nashevich. “This is something that has put us to the point where we’re living angry in our own homes.”
Nashevich explained how low-flying planes are an ongoing disturbance for him and his wife, detailing how planes fly in barely above the 60-foot trees on his property, and how he counted as many as 48 planes in less than an hour one afternoon while sitting on his back porch.
Wilcox urged residents in attendance that if they have any safety concerns to file them with Transport Canada so they can be addressed.
Mayor John Henry and councillors Gail Bates, Rick Kerr and Dan Carter were also in attendance at the town hall meeting.
Also at issue for some residents was the simple lack of information being shared with the surrounding community.
“We’re here because we want information and there’s not enough,” said resident Julia McCrae.