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City’s airport faces numerous ‘challenges’ as report on the future of the facility released

The Nelson Airport Operations and Regulatory Review detailed key findings and recommendations for the safe, efficient and compliant operation of the airport, “and any areas of concern which required further study.” — Nelson Pilots Association Facebook photo

Nelson’s airport isn’t flying away anywhere, says the Heritage city’s mayor, despite the city receiving and reviewing a report on the state and future of the facility that detailed several ‘challenges’ it faced.

John Dooley said the Norman Stibbs Airport on the city’s waterfront was the subject of the Nelson Airport Operations and Regulatory Review, a report commissioned by the city through WSP Aviation that included a gap analysis of regulatory requirements specified in the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

The report detailed key findings and recommendations for the safe, efficient and compliant operation of the airport, “and any areas of concern which required further study.”

The report found that Nelson’s airport, like many similar community airports, is facing various operational challenges, including a commitment to the airport’s future.

“The airport’s future has not been determined, as there has been interest in closing the airport to benefit non-aviation development,” the report read. “An unknown future can lead to deferred maintenance of critical facilities like a runway and significantly increase the cost of replacement in the future.”

But Dooley said there has been no discussion about dissolving the airport despite the statement in the report.

“There has been no discussion by this council on (that),” he said. “But we are trying to create some certainty around it, that’s for sure.”

People need to look at that property as to what it was and how it ended up being an airport, Dooley continued, that it was a landfill and still is a landfill covered with a great slab of asphalt.

“So, to ever do anything with that land would take an extensive amount of reclamation,” he said.

The airport is becoming more and more an economic engine of the community in relation to fly-in skiing operations, search and rescue and fire suppression, Dooley pointed out.

“So it’s a valuable asset to us at this point in time,” he said. “It’s the best use of the land.”

But capital planning and funding are also an issue with the airport, with the facility’s runways, taxiways and apron all aging and in need of rehabilitation in the future, the report stated.

“No formal planning for phasing or capital requirements appears to be in place,” it read. “A detailed infrastructure review should be completed to better define this challenge. A funding strategy including grants is required to deliver the required capital projects.”

The report also further questioned airport maintenance and how it was reliant upon volunteers and “loaned” city staff, noting the maintenance model should instead be formally planned, documented and scheduled to make the airport most efficient and cost effective.

“There were many safety issues raised in the report,” said Dooley, “but the city is currently working on them, in-house.”

There has been substantial crack filling completed on the runway, the report noted, which appeared to be effective. However, the amount of crack filling pointed to continued deterioration of the runway and it was suggested it should be investigated further.

“There were examples … where new cracks are appearing in the surface of the runway and previously treated cracks are widening,” the report read. “If left untreated, these could create foreign object debris hazards and contribute to further decline of the runway.”

It was recommended the city conduct a geotechnical investigation to determine the need for and scope of future runway rehabilitation.

Dooley said the city is hiring another consultant to do some tests on the runway to see what needs to be done to upgrade it.

The deterioration did not end there.

“The apron surface, and the helicopter touchdown areas in particular, show significant signs of wear,” the report read. “The pavement surface was uneven, and created an uneven, potentially unstable surface for aircraft. In addition, the surface was failing in multiple areas, creating a foreign object debris (FOD) hazard. There was substantial ‘ponding’ in the depressions on the apron.”

As a result, the report recommended the city conduct an analysis of the obstacles close to the airport, including vegetation and man-made structures to determine if the current clearances provided by the displacement of the threshold was sufficient and “could be used to support the future pursuit of instrument approach procedures.”

Although the Norman Stibbs Airport is not certified as an airport, certification as an airport involves an “exponential increase in regulatory compliance requirements over those faced by aerodromes,” the report noted.

There are comprehensive certification standards that govern runway lighting, markings, signage, obstacle limitation surfaces and more, all which come with a significant price tag, the report explained.

The report also recommended an updated airport operations manual, since the one the airport utilized was dated March 2005.