ECA Review Reporter
The future of night landings at Hardisty’s airport looks bleak, as repairs to the landing strip’s lighting system may run into six figures. The airport, a 3000 foot airstrip southwest of the town, has been without a working runway lighting system for several months. While the exact cause of the failure is unknown, Hardisty Mayor Kevin O’Grady suspects a lightning strike may be to blame.
Runway lights are necessary to allow airplanes to land at night. After the failure was discovered Nav Canada issued a NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) forbidding night landings at the airport or during times of restricted visibility.
Unmanned airports have an ‘on-demand’ lighting system that is activated either by a ground-based control panel or by a pilot via two-way radio. The current system, according to interim CAO Sandy Otto, was installed in the early 1980s. The damage to the system, as well as changes to airport lighting installation regulations, rule out simply repairing the lights.
According to a report issued by the town and presented at a public meeting on Thursday, October 4, the lighting system will cost $211,000 to replace. This figure, according to Otto, is based on an assessment made by an airport lighting contractor hired to examine the system.
The airport is still usable for daytime and clear weather landings under VFR (visual flight rules).
According to the Canada Flight Supplement, a publication produced by Nav Canada, the Hardisty Airport consists of a single asphalt runway 3000 feet in length. The runway is unmonitored and unstaffed, and usage is measured by a sign-in book that pilots landing at the airport fill out. According to Mayor O’Grady, pilots are not obligated to record their usage, making it difficult to determine the true usage of the airport.
While pilots operating under VFR are not obligated to file a flight plan, records obtained by The Review show that the most recent flight plans filed with Nav Canada that list Hardisty Airport as a destination originated from Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Cranbrook and Virden, Manitoba – all by planes chartered by a local energy company.
Local industry is indeed a heavy user of the airport, said Otto. There has been some interest by local industry to help with the costs of repairs, and the town is investigating government grants to help defray the cost of the new system.
Until STARS expanded its coverage area to include Hardisty, medivac flights were a common sight at the airport. While STARS helicopters currently serve the majority of Hardisty’s medical transport needs via a hospital adjacent helipad, fixed wing medivac aircraft do use the Hardisty airport 3 to 4 times a year.
When presented at the meeting on October 4, interest in spending the town’s money to repair the lights was not overwhelming.
“Right now, the kind of feeling coming from council and the ratepayers at the meeting, it’s questionable that revenue from the town coffers should be used,” Otto said.
While the town owns the airport, operating costs are shared with Flagstaff County. The cost to repair the lights, according to town council, is not covered by insurance.