By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It’s not a matter of if – it’s a matter of when and for how long.
Closures at the Oshawa Executive Airport are inevitable when the reconstruction of the airport’s main runway eventually gets underway, and council has recently approved the go-ahead to hire consultants to help figure out the specifics.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces that go into it,” says Stephen Wilcox, the airport’s manager. “There’s no ideal time to close an airport and the challenge is, of course, it’s a fairly major disruption of business and services.”
With the smaller Runway 05/23 being refurbished in 2010, the larger Runway 12/30 is now in need of a facelift as it reaches the end of its life.
According to a city report, engineers originally suggested the runway, built in 1994, be reconstructed this year after more than 2,000 metres of cracks were discovered along with 14 frost heaves. However, with a bit of pavement work, crack sealing and the repair of two of the larger heaves, the city was able to push that cost, an estimated $3.2 million, until 2017.
“They just really allowed us to buy some time on that,” Wilcox says.
“The runway today is perfectly safe because we always maintain it in a safe condition, but it is reaching the end of its service life.”
Now, the city and airport staff are looking for consultants to help in the preparation of the work that will include a complete tear down and repaving of the existing runway surface, replacement of the safety lighting, as well as an extension of the runway end safety zone (RESA) at both ends of the runway. A maximum budget of $55,000 has been set aside for the first phase and preparation.
The RESA extension is due to changes to Transport Canada standards that pushed the requirement to 150 metres from its previous 60 metres. The change was triggered by the 2005 crash of an Air France flight at Toronto’s Pearson airport that skidded off the runway before bursting into flames. All passengers and crew survived the wreck.
The upgrade will also bring the Oshawa airport closer to global standards set by the International Civil Aviation Authority, which suggests a RESA of 300 metres. These standards aim to keep runways looking and operating the same way across the globe to make the job of a pilot easier when making transcontinental flights.
The runway reconstruction is one of several projects identified in the city’s Airport Business Plan, approved in 2015. The report details several items, like the runway, that will soon be reaching the end of their life and in need of replacement.
A large portion of work is needed in the next five years, and the hope is to have most of the work done prior to the closure of the Buttonville Airport, which speculation has stamped for anywhere between this fall and the fall of 2017. In 2010, operators at Buttonville entered an agreement with developers to redevelop the land in the next five to seven years.
“We know that Buttonville Airport will be closing in the near future and we also know that the majority of the aircraft that are based there will be transitioning over to Oshawa,” Wilcox explains, noting that a large percentage have already made the shift.
Still, the pressure remains to complete the runway to accommodate the increased traffic when the inevitable closure occurs.
“If we wait until after Buttonville closes, not only do we have one less airport that’s here to go to, we also have all the airplanes that are there today, that are going to be here in the future, so the problem get’s bigger,” Wilcox says.
When the Buttonville airport does close, 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.