Public Values

Public Values reader clarifies Hamilton airport sale story

Nanaimo airport offers lesson in "jurisdiction".

Feds only regulate safety, not environmental concernsby Rita Dawson

After our posting of a story in the Hamilton Spectator about the potential sale of its airport to raise funds for capital infrastructure programs, Public Values reader, Rita Dawson of British Columbia, wrote a letter to reporter Mark McNeil and forwarded a copy to us. Here is her letter in total.

Greetings Mr. McNeil,

I came across your article through another website and found it rather curious.

First off the following statement is incorrect and requires changing so people are educated as to exactly who/whom owns and operate airports in this country as most are labouring under the misconception that the federal government does.

"Other than tiny airports that might host a few small planes and gliders, airports in Canada are either owned by the federal government or municipalities."

Federal government no longer "owns" airports. The only responsibility the federal Ministry of Transport has over airports in this country is one of safety.

Prior to 1992, Canada embarked upon drawing up a policy to divest itself of airports, transferring airports from federal control to local management.

The National Airports Policy clearly confirmed the government's intention of withdrawing itself from the business of airport operations. In fact, the government called for individual airports in the National Airports System to be self-sufficient within five years and operate without subsidization.

In the 2005 Office of the Auditor General Report entitled, Transport Canada – Overseeing the National Airports System, under Background and Other Observations, Item 2.7 states:

"In 1992, Transport Canada began to transfer the major Canadian airports. By March 2003, the 26 NAS airports had been transferred: twenty-two to airport authorities, three to territorial governments, and one to a municipality.

Transport Canada retained ownership of the airports transferred to airport authorities in order to guarantee the long-term viability of the NAS. The transfer of the airports to the airport authorities, not-for-profit organizations, was set up as a 60-year lease."

  "(W)hile the Nanaimo airport sits over the Cassidy Aquifer and within the Agricultural Land Reserve and within the boundaries of the Nanaimo Regional District, the Regional District have absolved themselves of all responsibilities by stating they have 'no jurisdiction' over the airport."

Also, in the year 2000 another Report from the Auditor General states, in part:

"10.8 Transferring its responsibility for operating NAS airports and divesting its ownership of more than 100 other airports to local governments or community organizations is the last step in the government's withdrawal from air transportation operations. In 1988 it privatized Air Canada, and in 1996 it sold its civil air navigation system to NAV CANADA. However, Transport Canada's mandate to regulate the safety and security of air transportation has not changed. It must still ensure that transferred airports operate in a safe and secure manner."

I am writing from about one km east of the Nanaimo Airport on Vancouver Island, BC. Similar to Hamilton's airport, the original Cassidy airport was also a 1940s military, albeit backwoods and tiny, station. I doubt if anyone ever dropped by.

For years it was named and known locally as Cassidy Airport and, for years, there were no regular flights out of Cassidy with the exception of flying loggers back and forth to the Queen Charlotte Islands. There was also a flying school on-site.

The airport is not in the right location. It is situated directly over top of the Cassidy Aquifer, a large and vulnerable aquifer, which sustains local residents and farmers (not on any type of piped-in water infrastructure but wells for drinking & irrigation) with the north end in a marshland off of Haslam Creek and surrounded by farmland. Water from the aquifer bubbles to the surface and most of the fall and winter months the airport is shrouded in fog.

When the federal government embarked upon divested itself of airport operations in 1992, the Cassidy airport was offered to either the Province of BC, the City of Nanaimo or the Regional District of Nanaimo. All refused. So, a non-profit airport commission was established and, to this day, the Nanaimo airport is owned and operated by the non-profit Nanaimo Airport Commission. A good cover for making a profit otherwise how are they in business?

  "In this day and age of airline bankruptcies, increasing airport security... hands up over your head as we X-ray your body including every private nook & cranny... what's the land worth? More than the airport itself I'll bet."

In this curious instance, while the Nanaimo airport sits over the Cassidy Aquifer and within the Agricultural Land Reserve and within the boundaries of the Nanaimo Regional District, the Regional District have absolved themselves of all responsibilities by stating they have "no jurisdiction" over the airport.

Both the City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Regional District view the airport as essential to promoting their convention center a rather archaic approach since convention centers are dead-in-the-water. Therefore both "support" the airport to the dismay of local taxpayers who have seen, to-date, $11 million of their tax dollars funneled into the airport, yet they have "no jurisdiction". The expenditure of taxpayer's money flies (pun intended) in the face of the federal government's declaration that "individual airports in the National Airports System to be self-sufficient within five years and operate without subsidization."

In short, the Nanaimo Airport is an entity unto itself subsidized by the taxpayer with it's only obligation one of safety through Transport Canada which regulates that issue.

Reading your article it appears Hamilton wants and needs money so, like the federal government in the past, is looking to divest itself of the airport, but in this case through selling the airport to a private company.

In closing, all I can say is Good Luck!  In this day and age of airline bankruptcies, increasing airport security... hands up over your head as we X-ray your body including every private nook & cranny... what's the land worth? More than the airport itself I'll bet.

Rita

Links and sources
  Auditor General 2005 Report
  Auditor General 2000 Report

Posted: January 21, 2010

Categories:
  Public services
  Voices of privatization

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