This Monday it will become pretty quiet at the Okotoks Air Ranch. At least until October. Hopefully.
Residents of the neighbourhood outside of the town and community stakeholders were contacted earlier this month by Bryce Medd, manager of the Okotoks Air Ranch. They were informed that the site would be closing on April 18 and by 6:00 pm that day, any remaining aircraft would have to be gone.
Some of the reasons for the closure include the inability to meet various Transport Canada regulations that apply to the tiny airport. Things like wildlife around the airport and stricter requirements for registered airports that have been introduced since the Air Ranch was opened are some of the concerns that precipitated the closure.
Medd told Okotoks media that the air strip is considered a certified airport, similar to the small facility at Springbank, even though the operations at Okotoks aren’t as complex and are at a completely different level.
The Okotoks Air Ranch is a very unique neighbourhood in Southern Alberta in that residents can fly in and out of the community and taxi to their own personal hangar on their property.
There are three types of airports in Canada. In its simplest form, the first level would be unregistered which would be akin to a farmer having a runway in his field. Next is a registered aerodrome which is not under heavy regulations by Transport Canada. The next level up is registered, which is what Okotoks is – the same level under which the Calgary International Airport is regulated. It’s the residential part of the Air Ranch which places this air strip under the same scrutiny. In all 14 deficiencies have been identified by Transport Canada inspectors.
More regulations were implemented in 2009 by Transport Canada, adding on more layers of safety standards. The small facility at Okotoks has not been able to maintain those stands or do the upgrades required. It was inspected last fall and given a chance to comply but all activity has to cease until those standards are reached.
Some residents fear that the small airport will be closed indefinitely and that the developers of the Air Ranch may find that too much work must be done to bring the facility into compliance with the enhanced regulations.
Medd says the cost of bringing the airport up to speed would be as much as five times his allocated annual budget, which would have to cover hiring extra people to maintain the new safety standards.
One business, an aerial imaging company that uses the airport, had to move its operations to High River.
Area residents hope that the Town of Okotoks becomes involved.
Medd says he is committed to doing whatever he can to get the airport opened in October. He hopes that residents and other stakeholders such as non-resident users, add their voice and their talents to the cause.
Residents have until Monday at 6:00 pm to remove any aircraft remaining at the airport.