Improvements for the Chatham-Kent Municipal Airport drew sharp criticism from a man who claims they would spell the end for a youth glider program.
“It’s a shame; ending a youth flying program that has been here since 1966,” shouted Jeff Pyefinch, interrupting Mayor Randy Hope’s announcement of a $2.5 million investment for the airport,
Pyefinch, a representative of the Kinsmen Air Training Centre, said two separate gliding programs have been operating on a grass strip, south of the runway.
“It’s done as soon as they start digging up the grass to put the lights in on the south side because they will put in obstructions that will make it unsafe and not feasible to continue gliding,” he said.
Pyefinch noted that his group has tried to work with municipal officials to place the PAPI lights (precision approach path indicator) at the north end of the runway.
The lights are a visual aid that helps pilots judge whether they are coming in too low or too high.
According to Pyefinch, his group was promised at a key airport user meeting last November that the lights would be put on the north side.
But he said he found out “by accident,” that wasn’t going to be the case.
The lack of notification was one of the reasons he chose to speak out at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Municipal staff, however, said it’s not the lighting improvements that have grounded the gliding program; it’s a Transport Canada issue with the location of the grass strip.
Jerry Corso, project manager, said Transport Canada notified municipal officials at the beginning of March (2013) that operations cannot occur in the grass strip while the main runway is in use by aircraft.
According to an email from the municipality, Transport Canada ruled that C-K cannot have the current grass strip; it must be re-located to a minimum of 210 metres to the south of the main runway.
In light of the ruling, the municipality had two options for the group when they met in March.
The first was to provide the land south of the runway and; in turn, the glider group would provide funding to develop a new grass strip.
The second option was for the group to use the north/south runway, which is currently available, at no cost and with no investment required.
A follow-up meeting was held July 18 to review recommendations from the group.
Corso said the group did not provide any funding proposals and rejected the idea of the north/south runway because of the prevailing crosswinds.
After the news conference Hope told Pyefinch that he was not aware of the glider concerns and assured him he would meet with him to discuss the issue.