The Oshawa Airport, located in the Greater Toronto Area, is very busy with residents complaining about the increasing noise from aircraft, despite new flight restrictions implemented by the Airport. Oshawa is part of Durham Region, one of the fastest growing areas in North America. This region and five of the local mayors, have a solution that will create jobs, increase safety and reduce noise pollution, by building a new airport in Pickering. A small number of individuals and corporations are lobbying to monopolize, for their own benefit, the valuable public land which was set aside by the Federal government for the airport. A local government MP has finally started to ask questions.
On October 1st 2020, the MP for Whitby, Ryan Turnbull, wrote to the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, concerned about increasing aircraft volumes and noise at Oshawa airport. In his letter, the MP made several observations that any pilot flying out of the airport could confirm. But his requested actions are misguided and will not resolve the issues. The MP’s description of the issues needs to be explored and the best solution determined.
MP Turnbull wrote, “the Oshawa Executive Airport has seen increased traffic volumes over the last several years, which has caused increasing noise pollution for certain segments of my community. Constituents report early morning flights as low as 200 feet above their homes, disrupting their lives daily.” MP Turnbull has requested that “NAV Canada investigate the flight paths” and that action be taken to improve the situation and to “find a mutually beneficial path forward”.
The MP’s observation is correct and timely, as Durham region grapples with plans for expanding its aviation infrastructure. Even in the middle of a pandemic, with travel from the US halted, Oshawa Airport’s traffic volume bounced back in September to exceed pre-pandemic levels.
In response to this growth, the Oshawa Airport has little choice but to enforce flight restrictions on aircraft movements and has started the process to evict a local flight school, with the loss of 70 jobs and millions in economic activity. This will jeopardize the advanced education and training that is critical to the success of the region’s air industry and connectivity. Yet this will not remove the pressure on the airport or the growing noise over the heads of local residents.
Let’s consider the situation at the Oshawa Airport. The airport was first established in 1941, during the second World War, to train pilots. The airport was transferred to Transport Canada in 1947. Over the years, Transport Canada created and updated the Oshawa Airport Zoning Regulations (OAZR). This zoning regulation identifies the approach surfaces for each runway. Consider one of the approaches defined in the regulations for a runway which extends for 2.5 kilometres from the end of the runway into Whitby. The regulations were written during a time when there was little or no residential development near the airport.
The zoning regulations define the approach surface slope as 1:50, meaning the slope from the end of the runway rises 1 metre vertically for each 50 metres travelled horizontally. Simple math shows that an aircraft could be as low as 50 metres(164 feet) above the ground 2,500 metres (2.5 kilometers) from the end of one of Oshawa’s runways and still be in compliance with the zoning regulation.
Ryan Turnbull, is correct in stating that aircraft can be seen flying 200 feet (61 metres ) above homes in Whitby, and those aircraft are 100% within regulations when they are doing so.
The height of aircraft above the ground will vary depending on terrain differences between the airport elevation, the specific local elevation, the distance of the aircraft from the runway, VFR or IFR flight rules and type of aircraft. Between the end of the runway and that 2.5 km end point, aircraft can even be lower than 50 m.
Notice that there are literally hundreds of homes under the approach surfaces at Oshawa, especially to the west and south. There are thousands of homes within several kilometers of the airport, many of which were built after 1984.
The situation begs fundamental questions: Why were these homes built under the airport’s approach surfaces? Why was their construction approved? The builders and the approval authorities knew, or should have known, about the airport and the regulations controlling its operation. People who bought these homes should have known or been informed of the airport situation before finalizing their purchase. So why complain about noise now?
Part of the answer is that the rapid growth of the eastern Toronto region and the increasing importance of aviation to our economy is changing the type, volume and role of traffic at Oshawa airport. In the past, a homeowner may not have minded or even noticed a light two seat Cessna 150 with a 100 horse power engine doing training overhead. Residents may even have cheered the arrival of the occasional DC3 with a just-in-time delivery of critical components for the city’s largest employer, the local General Motors automotive assembly plant. Times have changed.
A growing number of turbo props, helicopters, small jets and other commercial utility aircraft are now being added into the mix of General Aviation(GA) piston aircraft. New GA aircraft are also faster, more powerful and capable with features and avionics once seen only in larger passenger jets. All are mixing in with older training aircraft are such as the Cessna 172. This growing congestion, plus variations in aircraft speed, is creating longer lines of aircraft on the approach to the runway, further expanding the noise profile of the airport beyond its historical dimensions.
So, what can be done? Adding additional runways and infrastructure at Oshawa Airport to reduce the congestion is not possible. The airport is now surrounded by homes and business and is unable to significantly expand, even if the growing noise could be contained with restrictions. But a real solution is ready and waiting for the political green light from the Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau. A new, larger and more modern airport is being planned in near-by Pickering that will reduce the strain on Oshawa.
In contrast to Oshawa, the new airport in Pickering will be surrounded by a green space noise buffer and an economic development zone. Just as importantly, it will have the room for longer runways, overrun areas, hangars, passenger gates, fuel storage and the other services that make an airport work. In lieu of a final design, the new airport has been thoughtfully zoned with significantly larger 1:60 slope (shown above out to 3 km) and huge areas set aside for runways. A final design will refine and reduce this area but even now no homes not already owned by Transport Canada will be under the approach surfaces.
But this carefully organized solution is now in jeopardy. Recently, there has been a lobbying effort using the pandemic as an excuse to extend the land leases on the Pickering airport lands. This would result in taxpayer-owned land, assembled at great cost for economic development and an airport, being placed in the hands of a select few corporations and individuals for decades to come. This lobbying effort has included the misrepresentation by another MP (Jennifer O’Connell) of the contents of the ASA report which states that new aviation capacity is needed. These same special interests are showing contempt for the citizens of Oshawa and Whitby by misrepresenting the feasibility and human cost of expanding Oshawa airport.
Each year the new airport is delayed is money in the pockets of an anointed few, at great social and economic cost to rest of the citizens of Durham region. Draconian actions such as culling a flight school will not resolve the fundamental demand for local accessible safe aviation infrastructure. The only mutually beneficial path forward is to build Pickering Airport as quickly as possible.
All it will take to resolve this building crisis is for the MPs from Whitby, Oshawa and Pickering to show leadership by calling on the Minister of Transport to follow the suggestion of the KPMG ASA report to break ground on the new airport in 2026. The first steps in this process need to happen now, starting with Transport Canada initiating the environmental assessment process and to issue an Request For Proposal for the P3 development of Pickering Airport by private investors.
This new airport will improve aviation safety, and reduce aviation noise over the heads of hundreds of thousands of residents in Oshawa and Whitby. It will be an economic engine creating thousands of regional jobs. All that MP Ryan Turnbull has to do is ignore the lobbyists and special interest groups, listen to his voters, and join the five local mayors in their call to Build Pickering Airport Now!
KPMG ASA report, conclusions on Pages 334 point 3 and 5, business case on page 359, 373, 374