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Flight schools shouldering unfair blame: officials

Airport business owners say they aren’t the reason for increased traffic

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Officials from an Oshawa flight training school say they are facing unfair blame in recent debates involving the city’s airport.
At its most recent meeting, city council supported several measures, introduced by Mayor Dan Carter, aimed at striking a balance between quality of life of residents and operations at the Oshawa Executive Airport.
Carter’s motion came after a town hall meeting on Sept. 24 that which saw 175 residents attend, several who voiced their frustration with the number of aircraft movements, as well as related-noise and air quality issues.
Council has directed development services staff to review these issues and to also address hours of operation and to get input from both NAV Canada and Transport Canada.
The city will also expand noise and air quality monitoring at the airport to include nearby residential neighbourhoods, and host a series of workshops with a maximum of 20 participants, such as residents and airport business-owners or other stakeholders, to discuss issues raised at the town hall.
Lastly, the city is looking to discuss the 1997 airport operating agreement with the federal government.
A great deal of the blame for the problem has been laid at the feet of training schools at the Oshawa airport.
Two flight schools are operating out of the airport, Canadian Flight Academy and Durham Flight Centre.
John Davis, president of Canadian Flight Academy, addressed council at its latest meeting.
He says the company employs 70 people and has contributed millions of dollars into the local economy.
But from his perspective, flight training schools are “wearing all the blame.”
Davis said Canadian Flight Academy’s flight hours are down 26 per cent from their peak in 1998.
He noted local movements at the airport are down 22 per cent since then, and total movements have decreased nine per cent.
But Ward 2 city and regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri pointed out itinerant (flights from one airport to another) and local movements at the airport have increased from 51,720 in 2014 to 78,337 in 2018.
He questioned how flight schools could not play a role in the increase.
Again, Davis said his company’s flight hours have declined from 7,500 in 1998 to about 5,800.
“It’s not my company that is creating this type of traffic,” he said.
He noted some aircraft owners shifted from Buttonville to Oshawa on the assumption the former was closing, but that he didn’t have the answers.
Marimpietri said, to him, it seems like nobody ever does.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of it. I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but I’m asking you, and you don’t know. I’ll ask our management, and they don’t know. I ask somebody else involved at the airport, and they don’t know. Somebody has to know,” Marimpietri said. “For people to say nothing has changed, the numbers don’t lie.”
Marimpietri then asked how to find a balance between the anxieties of residents and operations at the airport.
“I think you are looking in the wrong spot,” Davis said.
He explained the flight school industry is not experiencing a boom period, and Canada will require 7,300 new pilots by 2025.
Davis said his company provides a “huge opportunity” for local youth.
“What better chance to train for a new career than staying in their own community,” he noted.
He said the flight schools have voluntarily worked with the city, including having no circuits on long weekends.
“It’s not like we haven’t been doing anything, and it’s been at a cost to our companies,” Davis said.
Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson said with flight movements up and local schools saying their business is down, either the numbers are wrong, or pilots are coming from other airports and “dumping their noise issues” on Oshawa.
Dave Lorbetskie is the chief flight instructor at Canadian Flight Academy.
With 175 residents attending the meeting, he said that represents about 0.01 per cent of Oshawa’s total population.
“So, does 100th of one per cent dictate Oshawa’s policy?” Lorbetskie asked.
Lorbetskie said council must consider the impact on not just employees of his company, but the 400 full-time employees out of the airport.
“They have a right to a job and to provide for their family’s quality of life as well. Any further restrictions at the airport will affect their lives,” he said. “We can’t forget the other side of this discussion.”
Lorbetskie said the motion supported by council doesn’t appear to have any balance.
The airport has been in Oshawa since 1941, and anyone buying a house near it would know it’s there, and what happens there, he adds.
“We live in a time where nobody takes responsibility for their own choices and actions… and it’s always someone else’s fault or problem, it is time for them to take ownership of their own decisions…,” Lorbetskie said.
He said the flight schools have spent millions of dollars to try to mitigate the impact on the community.
Marimpietri said he considered Lorbetskie’s comments as “extreme.”
“We are up progressively from 2014 to 2018… I would suggest while the residents know they live by the airport, and the pilots know they can use the airport, there are limitations on any use of infrastructure,” he said.
Lobertskie said the flight school is operating under guidelines laid out by council in 2012, and the balance is already there.
“I’m not saying the community has to accept all the responsibility… but they have to accept some of the responsibility… it’s not a one-way street,” he said.
He said the two flight schools at the airport only represent 10 per cent of aircraft at the airport.
Despite this, Marimpietri said the majority of complaints he has heard are about flight schools.
“I do think there is a concern we need to work on,” he said.