A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

June 2008

Rural Airports: Just noise machines!

 The crowd at the coffee shop consisted of the regulars on the island.  Mostly men, everyone dressed in rain gear.  Out here on the west coast, winter means rain.  We rarely get snow for any duration, and the winds blow mild temperatures in off the Pacific.  This is not good flying weather!  In fact it’s not good for much at all.  On the other hand, I have to admit the gray sky, the wind and the rain are better than having a ton of snow and sub zero temperatures. 

The relatively mild winters are the reason so many of our countrymen (and women) move here to retire.  Rain wear is cheaper than winter clothes.  It doesn’t cost that much to heat a house.  And there are fewer heart attacks while shoveling snow than in any other place in the country. 

Island life is slower and quieter than in most areas on the mainland.  That’s another reason that a large portion of our population over here consists of seniors, retired people.  They like it quiet.  So it was no surprise at the coffee shop that day when I was almost thrown out for suggesting we need an airport on our little piece of rock in the ocean.

Tourism is a fairly large chunk of the economy on this island.   A couple of dozen Inns, Bed & Breakfast’s and motels/lodges offer accommodations.  There’s a very active retreat centre running seminars and study sessions weekly.  Artists and crafters have set up studios in their homes to sell and display their creations.  Restaurants and theatres are also very active here.  They all rely on mainlanders, who in turn must rely on the ferry service to get here.  That means delays, waits, lineups, inconvenience and constantly increasing costs.  There would be more people who would come if they could fly over!

“Why wouldn’t you support an airport here?”  I put the question to one of the most vocal opponents to the idea.  She responded, “the noise”.  Just then a Harley Davidson motorcycle with the standard issue straight pipes went roaring past.  Nobody seemed to notice that noise. 

Knowing full well I was wasting my breath I explained to her that we were not talking about another Vancouver International, or some training airport.  What I had in mind was a turf or gravel strip, maybe 2,500 feet long and for the use of the small number of pilots who could then bypass the BC Ferries nightmares and commute to and from wherever they go.  The traffic volume at this airport would be no more than one or two flights in and out daily, if that.  There are not many pilots who live here.

The RC model airplane pilots have their own little strip.  Hardly anyone complains about it which doesn’t make sense because those planes buzz around all day when they’re out there flying.  Real airplanes, although admittedly noisier, are gone quickly.  They roll down the strip, lift off and away they go.  The noise is only for about 30 seconds.  And we all know that an inbound aircraft can’t be heard at all in most cases.

I pressed the woman about other noise, tolerated by islanders.  Motorcycles are the plague of every city, not just out little corner of the world.  Emergency generators are another noise source that drones on and on through our frequent power outages.  Many people have the units that start up automatically the instant the power goes off.  That means sometimes at three or four in the morning.  They’re loud enough to disturb entire  neighborhoods.  Complaints?  Well, some.  But generators are an accepted appliance here.  Barking dogs and loud music occasionally rock the island.   Another fact of life here is loud or no mufflers on a large percentage of the local vehicles.

All these noise sources I neatly packaged and put on the table in front of this woman as my argument for an airport.  Still she was having none of it.  There is no way she would support it.  About that time, it became clear I’d need to play the ace I had up my sleeve. 

“Are you aware there already is an airport on the island?”  I asked. 

“No way.  I’d have heard it!”

I went on to explain that one of the farmers had quietly built a strip, complete with windsock and a small hangar for his airplane on his land several years earlier.

No one at our table in that coffee shop had even heard about it, let alone heard any air traffic around it.  There really wasn’t much traffic, just this one aircraft coming and going perhaps on a weekly basis.  The close neighbors knew about it, but none had any objection.  Unfortunately for the pilots who would like to see a facility here, the farmer will have no part of anyone else using his field. 

So the bad news would be we can’t use this landing strip.  The good news is that nobody seems to be aware of it which would be further good news when we attempt to have a pubic airport considered.  How can people argue against the noise when we already have a strip that they haven’t heard!? 

This is a scenario that is similar in dozens, if not hundreds of other locations across the country.  What people don’t understand, they reject outright.  Given a chance to see the other side of an argument, they might be more receptive.  They all say they don’t want noise.  But they don’t do anything about the motorcycles, the vehicles with no mufflers, the barking dogs and loud stereos.  The perception that aircraft are not only unsafe, but are noisy too, is a hard one to change in peoples’ minds.  Someone once said, ”My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with facts.”  Seems appropriate when you talk airplanes with non-pilots. 

Back to main page