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Runway open for business

Maini runway reopens after major reconstruction project

From left to right, Councillors Gail Bates, Doug Sanders, Bob Chapman, John Aker and Mayor John Henry stand with Regional Chair Roger Anderson, Councillors Nester Pidwerbecki, Rick Kerr, airport manager Stephen Wilcoxx and Councillor Dan Carter on the main runway at the Oshawa Executive Airport during its reopening on Oct. 30. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Smooth.

A word that can be used to describe both the freshly paved runway at the Oshawa Executive Airport, and the 35 day construction project that led to the crucial piece of pavement’s completion.

During an event on Oct. 30, Runway 12/30, the main runway of the Oshawa airport was officially reopened, though it was only a bit of ceremony for the city as the runway itself had already been accepting planes for nearly three weeks, with the first plane coming in for a landing on Oct. 10 around 7 p.m.

“I’m really pleased, I think first and foremost, that we were able to meet our obligations to the community,” says Stephen Wilcox, the airport manager. “We pride ourselves on being a good community neighbour.”

Now complete, along with the repaved surface, the work included the repainting of all runway markings, replacement of the runway lighting, addition of the runway end safety areas, and construction of a noise berm to the north of the houses on Jane Avenue.

Stephen Wilcox, manager of the Oshawa Executive Airport, speaks during the grand reopening of the main runway. The project finished on time and on budget. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

According to Wilcox, the project was completed on time and on budget.

“This airport will continue to play a role in the economy of Oshawa and the Region of Durham and the province of Ontario,” says Mayor John Henry. “It gives us a competitive edge that many municipalities only dream of having, and to have a major port and an airport in the Region of Durham gives us and our business community the opportunity to compete around the world.”

Originally constructed in 1941, the aging runway was in dire need of replacement, and in the coming years will need to be up to the task of handling air traffic that is projected to increase steadily.

With the closure of Buttonville Airport exepcted sometime in the next couple years, it is projected that aircraft movements in Oshawa will increase to more than 100,000 annually, more than double 2014’s numbers of 51,758 movements.

“From an operational standpoint everybody is incredibly impressed,” Wilcox says of the new surface. “Runways aren’t like roads, you can’t have little undulations and ripples here and there like you can on a road, they really need to be buttery smooth and it absolutely is just a beautiful piece of asphalt.”

However, things have not always been so smooth. Prior to budget time last year, councillors received a bit of a shock when the cost to replace the aging runway came back nearly double the original estimates.

The risings costs were due to an increase in the scope of work to replace the runway, bringing the figure to $6 million compared to the original proposal in the Airport Business Plan approved in 2015. The increase led to council pushing aside its policy on debt and taking out a further $4 million.

The debt was issued through an interfund note, and currently, council’s policy for such a process states that no more than 40 per cent of the city’s minimum cash balance should be invested in this type of debt. The minimum cash balance for 2016 was approximately $35 million, meaning the debt should be capped at $14 million. The $4 million needed for the runway will push council’s interfund note debt load to $14.8 million.

With that said, the city isn’t the only entity pumping dollars into the aiport. NAV Canada is currently in the midst of completing a new $9 million control tower set to be open next year, and three more hangar projects, two of which are set to begin this fall. This compliments the already 300,000 square feet of hangar space that has been built at the airport in the last five years.