Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this afternoon’s tour and opportunity to question Traci Bednard of Edmonton International Airport, I need to make one thing clear. I am 100% behind the expansion of EIA and the whole 2012 concept. So, to me, this is not a which airport is better, which town is better, or who is right and who is wrong.
I wholeheartedly want to see the Edmonton City Centre Airport remain open, if that is the will of the people who own it, the taxpayers of Edmonton. The property is ours. The infrastructure is ours. The demise or re-invigoration of said property and infrastructure should depend on us.
This afternoon, with very little notice, I was invited to tour the ECCA and to discuss the closure of the facility with Traci Bednard, V.P. of Communications and Passenger Experience at Edmonton International Airport. I quickly called Mack Male as he and I have been bantering on Twitter and have become quite embroiled in this debate. Mack and I don’t always see eye to eye, but we both agree the people have a right to information, and we are happy to oblige in that department. I also wanted to be sure I would have someone available to clarify if I make mistakes in my recollection of what all was said. A lot of information was taken in over a very short period of time. One hour to be exact.
I called a couple of people to see what questions they would like asked. They will remain unnamed except to say one is an MLA and the other is a businessman, both of whom live and work in Edmonton. Both of them have a stake in the future of the ECCA as Edmontonians. So I sought their input.
As far as learning anything new is concerned, there wasn’t a lot we hadn’t heard 100 times. What I was able to do was clarify, for myself, some of the arguments on both sides. Unfortunately Ms. Bednard is not in a position to make personal comments on EIA policy or answer questions about the machinations of Edmonton City Council. I certainly wasn’t going to get answers to poliical questions which, by answering, would put her in a precarious position. She was there to give the corporate answers and nothing more. I don’t blame her in the least, and I was grateful she took the time to answer our questions.
I asked one question which was put by my MLA friend. I received the answer and have passed it on to him privately. The answer to the question really plays no part in the drama unfolding over the closure of the airport.
One of my biggest questions was the reason City Council chose to close runway 16-34, the only runway with an ILS system. What I got as an answer really gave me more to study than I had anticipated. So I have hit the web and taken a crash (poor choice of words) course in such things as minima, ILS, GPS, glidescope and IMC. Thank G-d I don’t need physics to do my job, because this stuff is complex. This may help the layman.
Traci simplified it for me. The argument made that installing GPS on runway 12-30 to replace the Instrument Landing System on runway 16-34, under optimal conditions (which is an important distinction) will make a difference in the low visibility landing of approximately 50′. However, this airport has a distinct disadvantage for landing posed by such things as the buildings downtown, the changing heights of construction cranes, and even the presence of the air operations at CFB Edmonton (Namao) which already changes the minima to Cat I, or over 200ft, with a minima of 400′. Since the ILS system brought pilots to 200′ and the GPS which IS installed on 12-30 is capable of bringing the pilots to 250′, both systems are equally capable of bringing pilots to the 400′ minima provided by the existing and constantly changing infrastructure in and around Edmonton.The length of the runways doesn’t much matter with 12-30 being longer by 168′.
UPDATE: An LPV or Localizer Performance with Vertical Guidance system will also be installed on 12-30. This system will provide properly equipped planes with approximately the same minima as an ILS system does. So the worries associated with poor visibility landings are pretty much taken care of. This should be installed and published in September.
The response to my question, “why close 16-34 when it already has the ILS system?” was just what I expected it to be, and a little more. “The cost of adding the GPS system to runway 12-30 was lower than making the repairs that were soon to be required on 16-34.” Okay, economically speaking, this is a good decision.
Herein lies the problem. ERAA did not make an argument one way or another to City Council. They provided a list of pros and cons and City Council made the call on which runway to close. You can never accuse me of being against fiscal responsibility. If, and only if, the decision was made based on economics, then more power to them.
I was about to ask a question about the work and such going on in the dark, at night, and not during daylight hours when the question was answered for me. First of all, this work has nothing to do with demolishing the runway. What they are doing, currently, is providing access from the eastern hangers to runway 12-30. This work needs to be done when the least traffic is moving around the airport. So at night when there are no incoming or outgoing flights, the work is happening on this access way.
When we asked about the work being done on the lights in Airway Park, we were told there was no work being done in Airway Park. Workers had dug up around the base of 6 landing lights to investigate what type of infrastructure is under the lights and what it is going to require to remove them when the time comes. This also makes sense to me. A visual inspection showed this to be the case.
Now, on the question of demolition of the runway. As we were leaving I asked Traci about rumours I had heard (from a very good source, by the way, and corroborated by an even better source) that no demolition will be occurring until after Envision Edmonton has a chance to complete their petition drive and the results of a plebiscite are made public, should Envision be successful. I am not sure, but I think I saw either shock or bewilderment in her face. Either she didn’t know or she was surprised that I did know. She quickly stated that demolition of the runway and removal of NAV systems is not in the pervue of Emonton Airports. Traci pointed out that EIA is only to decommission the runway. They have nothing to do with demolition.
Edmonton Airports will be decommissioning the runway within the next week or so. This entails removal of lights and placement of huge yellow (retroreflective) X’s down the runway, nothing more. I am sure the lights will not be removed if a cease order comes from above and things are to be left as is until the outcome of the political maneuvering. I can honestly say I would be surprised if anything, other than placing the X’s is done to the infrastructure for quite some time.
Of course there are still the questions about emails, backroom deals being made, and the whole underhanded way City Council and ERAA have handled the closure issue. I asked a couple of questions I knew would go unanswered, and they did. No one in a V.P. position, who wants to be in that position tomorrow, would have answered them. Perhaps ERAA should simply release all the emails so we can put them into perspective ourselves. What are they afraid of?
We discussed the medivac issues. There is no reason to rehash these issues. The answers were the same as every other time. “ERAA/EIA has been in consultation with Alberta Health and Stars etc. throughout the process.”
What I would really like to do is sit down with an air ambulance pilot and hear their side of the pros and cons of landing at EIA. What about ambulance attendants? Any out there willing to sit down and give me their opinions? Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t even bother asking about Stars. I know they can and do land directly at the hospitals, so I have no arguments with their answers on this account.
With only 2 Fixed Base Operators left at ECCA, there is really no argument to be made about the loss to them.
It brings me back to the question of why we need this airport? Simple. It works for Edmonton. Revenue generated belongs to the city. There are several hundred employees who, should the airport close, may be negatively impacted. Moving jobs to other towns quite often makes moving with the job difficult if not impossible. What gives City Council the right, in the current employment atmosphere to force people to make these decisions when the places they are working are making money and thriving where they are?
Arguments are made that the Edmonton Flight School makes up most of the flights in and out of the ECCA. Granted, they may be. Why should the members who are there be forced to drive to Villeneuve which has GPS but way shorter runways? Why, when they can drive to ECCA and fly to EIA for their ILF training, should they have to drive to Villeneuve and then fly to EIA for their ILF training. Can Villeneuve handle all the extra traffic closing the EIA is going to generate?How much runway do these fancy lear jets need to land? Will Villeneuve handle them or are they going to be forced to utilize EIA and pay higher user fees?
I asked if user fees were going to be higher at EIA, or if they were going to be increased with the closure of ECCA which will force many charter services to move to EIA. Where are the government of Alberta planes going to be housed? I am sure it will be at EIA, not Villeneuve. Guess who gets to pay the higher user fees? Yup, you and I.
My biggest concern could not be answered this afternoon. Why weren’t the people of the City of Edmonton given a chance to vote on this very very important issue? I am sick of hearing the answer, “We had public meetings….” Indeed, there were public meetings. Meetings which turned out to be a waste of time since it wouldn’t matter what anyone said, ERAA and certain of Edmonton City Council had already made up their minds. It was a matter of lobbying the few who weren’t sure, and getting their votes on board for closure. I am not a stranger to the machinations of government. Jumping through hoops and putting on a show when the conclusion is foregone is a common practice. Does anyone remember the hours and hours of listening to the liberals and NDP banter about Bill 44 while the PC MLA’s slept, chuckled, read novels and tweeted in the legislature? The conclusion was foregone and the decisions were made. The debate, if one could call it that, was just a formality. The same is true here.
I might think differently if the City wasn’t blocking Envision Edmonton from getting signatures on their petition at every turn. I witnessed, first hand, when they were told to turn their t-shirts inside out in City Hall. Remember this was not in the chamber only, this was in the hallways of OUR building. Then they were tossed from Churchill Square during a Taste of Edmonton. Then they were tossed from Capital Ex after they had paid for a booth. If people don’t want to sign, or even listen to them they can walk right on by, like I do with the 20,000 people trying to sell me everything from phone service to credit cards at the CapEx.
Why are the city, and the city’s cronies doing everything in their power to stop the PEOPLE who pay their salaries from taking part in the democratic process? What are they afraid of? Perhaps they are nervous that the petition will meet the requirements and a plebiscite will be forced. Wouldn’t it be better if City Council embraced the democratic process and showed the people of Edmonton they give a damn about our opinions? Who knows, they might get their way DEMOCRATICALLY.
The bottom line is, we got a nice tour of the airport. I came away with lots of propoganda, err, literature and a nice T-Shirt dissing Calgary (that’s always good), and a couple of clarifications. All in all, pretty much what I expected.
By the way Traci, I was serious, I will help you set up your Blackberry if you wish. And Thanks to Mack Male for allowing me to ask questions and even helping me get out what I really was asking.