Qualicum Beach mayor Teunis Westbroek is considering halting helicopter training at the Qualicum Beach Airport.
Westbroek broached the issue at the Committee of the Whole meeting on the town’s budget on March 16, citing the noise the aircraft create and the negative impact it has on residents’ quality of life.
Qualicum Beach Airport has been frequently used for helicopter training and it has drawn a number of complaints from nearby residents because of the noise.
“I think it’s time to address that,” said Westbroek. “What do we make out of all this helicopter training other than a lot of calls from people complaining about the noise? If there is no revenue from it is it worth having it? There has to be a cost benefit.”
Westbroek acknowledged the training is important because they’re used for Medevac purposes and other services such as fighting fires. But the noise and the pollution, he pointed out, are a concern.
“Could they train somewhere else for a change,” said Westbroek.
Coun. Scott Harrison referred to former councillor Robert Filmer’s reason why Qualicum Beach Airport has been constantly chosen for helicopter training.
“It’s basically because there are very few airports that don’t have a ton of scheduled flights in order to go up and down, essentially close to the runway, that’s why you can’t do it, say, in Comox or Nanaimo because the flights going by and that actually gets in the way of the helicopters coming up and down. You’re practicing taking off and landing, you’re not practicing flying around. So because we have a less utilized airport, the location is actually ideal for it.”
The Qualicum Beach Airport is not a profitable service for the town. It invests approximately $770,000 in fuel at the airport but only gets back around $780,000. It has allowed helicopter training mandated by Transport Canada to take place for more than 25 years.
Harrison said he’s not sure if there are other airports that are suitable for helicopter training. The Qualicum Beach Airport, he pointed out, is at a central location on Vancouver Island, in addition to its relatively low traffic volume.
Harrison also cautioned that, “if all you’re doing is responding to the people who are angry and reaching out to you, we represent 9,300 people not the 20 people who called us. And if you look online, whenever I look at some of the Facebook pages, dedicated to our region, and whenever someone says, ‘airport helicopter training, and I’m so angry about it’, 50 people start collaborating, ‘I hope you’re not saying anything about shutting down the airport’.”
While he understands that some people are getting frustrated especially those who have dogs that are sensitive to the noise, Harrison said, “we do need to have that service for the region.
“So I just caution when going down the road of ‘mad as heck and are not going to take it anymore,’ it might not be representative of where the community as a whole is at,” he said. “It might just be represented where the loudest voices are at.”
The town is planning to hire a consultant to look at the overall operations of the airport and bring a report of the findings to council.
“I don’t think anyone was saying shut down the airport,” said Westbroek. “Just saying, manage it in a way that is less intrusive to other people’s quality of life.”