Edmonton City Centre Airport Decision: Phased Closure

City Council voted today to implement a phased closure of the City Centre Airport. The motion put forward by Councillor Gibbons described two phases and passed by a vote of 10-3. I’m happy with the decision that was made today, and I commend Council for taking a courageous step toward ensuring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan are realized.

Here is the vote breakdown for adopting the motion (which you can download here):

Councillor Karen Leibovici (Ward 1) Yes
Councillor Linda Sloan (Ward 1) No
Councillor Ron Hayter (Ward 2) No
Councillor Kim Krushell (Ward 2) Yes
Councillor Ed Gibbons (Ward 3) Yes
Councillor Tony Caterina (Ward 3) No
Councillor Jane Batty (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Ben Henderson (Ward 4) Yes
Councillor Bryan Anderson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Don Iveson (Ward 5) Yes
Councillor Amarjeet Sohi (Ward 6) Yes
Councillor Dave Thiele (Ward 6) Yes
Mayor Stephen Mandel Yes

Council started discussing the issue at 1:30pm, and didn’t wrap up until nearly 6pm. There were at least four rounds of questioning, driven largely by Councillors Caterina and Sloan who were vehemently opposed to the motion. After the questioning finally ended, Councillor Caterina put forward a motion to refer the issue to Administration which was soundly defeated.

Three amendments were made to the original motion. Councillor Iveson’s two amendments were “friendly”. Councillor Krushell’s amendment stated that after scheduled service licenses expire at ECCA in June of 2012, that they not be renewed. All three amendments were approved, and as soon as the final motion is online I’ll link to it which you can download here (PDF).

It became clear as Councillors gave their final remarks that the motion was going to pass. I thought Councillors Henderson, Iveson, and Krushell made excellent comments about why this decision needed to be made, speaking in particular about the future. Councillor Leibovici mentioned the role of social networking in this debate (more on that in a future post). Mayor Mandel used his time to make it clear that “this is a closure motion.” Councillor Gibbons used his time to get a dig in at Councillor Caterina, saying “if you can’t win, don’t bring it forward.”

After the vote passed, a motion from Councillor Sloan was brought forward that called into question the legality of Councillor Gibbons’ motion (the City’s legal counsel gave the OK hours earlier). It also requested that quarterly updates be provided to Council on legal issues related to the City Centre Airport. The motion was split – the first part was defeated, the second part (quarterly updates) passed.

What happens next?

The following will happen immediately:

  • Runway 16-34 will be closed. General aviation business activities will be adjusted to accommodate a one-runway airport. Medivac service will be maintained.
  • As a result, a GPS landing system will likely be added to runway 12-30.
  • The parcel of lands adjacent to runway 16-34 that can be surrendered to the City once the runway is closed will be identified.
  • Negotiations will begin with NAIT and the Province of Alberta to allow for NAIT expansion.
  • The City of Edmonton will create a development office and will work to set out long-term visioning plans for the ECCA lands in their entirety. The plan will be presented to Council by November 2009.
  • Plans for realignment of the NAIT LRT line based on the closure of 16-34 will be provided to Council no later than September 2009.
  • The downtown plan will be adjusted to take into consideration the immediate removal of the overlay height restrictions.
  • The City of Edmonton will develop a communications strategy to inform the public about the impact of this decision.
  • The City Manager will negotiate with Edmonton Regional Airport Authority (ERAA) to make mutually acceptable lease amendments.

The following will happen sometime in the future:

  • ERAA will work with Alberta Health Services on a long-term system design to facilitate Medivac operations at the Edmonton International Airport or other regional airports.
  • The final closure date will be determined by City Council with input from ERAA when the lands are required to support the long-term land development plan.
  • After the final closure date is set, environmental remediation will take place.

What does this mean?

Council decided today to close the City Centre Airport. They stopped short of attaching dates however, which makes the motion much weaker than it could have been (during my live-tweeting I called it “gutless”). Both Mayor Mandel and Councillor Henderson addressed this in their final remarks, stating that Council’s intentions should not be misinterpreted – the intention is to close the airport.

I fear the lack of a timeline will open the door for this to be discussed again in the future, however. At what point are the lands “required to support the long-term land development plan”? Who decides that and brings it forward, especially if the City is to be the developer of those lands? I do believe that the direction is clear, that the airport is to be closed, but the lack of a final closure date makes me uncomfortable.

It’s important to realize that we’re a long way from seeing the airport completely closed. New communities are not developed overnight, and especially not world-class, transit-oriented ones. The City needs to take the time to come up with a solid, exciting plan that Edmontonians readily support.

Final Thoughts

I think Council made a bold statement today. By voting to close the City Centre Airport, Council made it clear that they’re willing to do what it takes to ensure Edmonton’s future is bright. I think today’s decision was an important step in the push to create a more vibrant, sustainable, innovative, and livable Edmonton.

The City Centre Airport will be closed, and that’s good for Edmonton.

UPDATE (7/9/2009): You can download the final version of the motion here (PDF).

  • Chad

    Well, I think this is going to make it very difficult for businesses that depend on the airport to continue business, so in the short run the city will be impacted. Flying small aircraft out of EIA just doesn’t seem feasible to me.

  • Thoughout the entire debate I was irked by Clr Sloan’s whispered cries of conspiracy and dirty dealings. It’s easy to spread innuendo, it’s a lot harder to come up with fact. Her suggesting that ERAA has no authority to even look at closing a runway is laughable; not only does it fulfill the “efficient operation” mandate of ERAA, it’s a business decision that they could have made even if the issue wasn’t in front of Council.

  • I agree with you completely Chris. I thought Reg Milley and the City’s counsel (can’t remember his name) were both very respectful in the way they handled her remarks. She made some very inappropriate statements.

  • It must be a very sad day for a large number of people who will be losing their jobs when the airport starts shutting down. I think its very unfortunate that Edmontonians are unaware of how valuble their services have been or how good this airport is to have.

  • Mack, thanks very much for your coverage and reports of this and other important local issues.

    From my perspective your tweets, re-tweets and blogs etc, helped to present a more complete and reasonably balanced view of the Muni issue than any other single media news source in the city.
    Your passion even created an opportunity for all of us to participate in a meaningful way.

    You have served the City of Edmonton well and I know you will continue to do so.
    Outstanding work young man and thank you again.

  • Hugh Logie

    As they say, you never realize what you have until it’s gone. In this case, Edmonton city council and the ERAA have decided to ignore the city’s history and close the historic airport from which Wop May flew his mercy flight in 1928, and which helped open up the north. Blatchford Field is a gem in my opinion, and I am saddened to see that those who dislike airplane noise appear to have won.

    Let’s be clear; the ERAA has for some time now had its sights set on closing CYXD in order to force air traffic to use the white elephant Edmonton International, which is located too far from the city to be viable. The success of the International is largely contingent on the elimination of more convenient alternatives. As a pilot, I am acutely aware of the limitations of air transport, the biggest of which is that ground transportation is necessary once the aircraft lands. In the case of Medevac flights, which are time-sensitive, it is not appropriate to subject a patient to a 35+ minute ambulance ride after the flight, particularly if their condition is deteriorating.

    Helicopters, despite their versatility, can’t cover the distances involved and can’t match the speed of fixed-wing aircraft. At some point you just need a runway, as close to a hospital as practical.

    I also wonder how the Government of Alberta types will enjoy the long cab (or limo) ride from the International to the Legislature. Or businesspeople for that matter. This so-called “underutilized” piece of land is part of Edmonton’s economic engine, whether you like aircraft or not, and its closure WILL have a measurable effect.

    In one sense you are correct, Mack. City council’s compromise could be called “gutless” and is certainly a half-measure. Outright closure of the airport right now would immediately prove how short-sighted the decision is and subject the councillors involved to the direct consequences of said action. The staged closure could be seen as a protective measure.

    The day that CYXD closes for good will be a sad one indeed. Mark my words: the city will one day look back with regret at what it has lost.

  • Will Kuzminski

    Having heard both sides of the argument, I feel the decision city council made was the correct one. I think it would have been catastrophic for business if it were instantaneously shut down; the decision made seems to help address both sides of the argument in a way that I am happy with. The phased closure allows businesses time to transition to the change, but also addresses the long term needs of the city. I am in full agreement that it should be closed, and have felt that way for a long time… before the issue was even publicly evident. Much like Mack said, world class transit oriented communities don’t develop overnight, and require a great deal planning and careful consideration over time. Since the development plans will obviously take time, it makes little sense to me to disrupt business, and leave the land vacant during the planning phases. The phased closure is a good thing, since development plans won’t be complete for some time to come; and the phased closure allows the airport to continue to operate until the plans come forward and are finalised. I feel this phased decision makes most effective use of the land, and allows it to gradually switch from being an airport to a fully developed community in planned stages; rather than eliminating the airport leaving it to sit there useless until actual development takes place, which could take a while.

    Just my .02 cents 😉

  • RN

    The people of Edmonton will remember this day in history as the day the Mayor and 9 Councillors effectivily destroyed one of the most valuable assessts in this City. The City Center Airport is good for buisness, medivac flights and one of the most important historically parcels of land we have. To bad the future of our region have become so blind to you Mack. The voters who care most of about this city will remember to vote out these 10 clowns in the next election.

  • Jim Rahn

    On the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in Canada, Edmonton’s city council decided to close the first civil airport in Canada — some legacy.

    The City Centre Airport played a huge role not only for Canadian aviation but in world history.
    To suggest that now, when Edmonton’s population is substantially larger than in World War 2, the airport no longer has a role to play is ridiculous.

    Anyone who thinks that the airport is being closed for any reason other than some land developers have finally gotten their hands on some prime real estate is mistaken. The city will gain NOTHING from the closure of the airport. Land developers need not have the best interest of the city of Edmonton at heart, but rather a return on their investment. Our city tax rates will not go down because the airport is closing.

    Air safety will become a greater hazard as a result of the closure. A 747 on final approach will not see a small Cessna 170 which might happen to be it’s way due to an air traffic control snafu.

    To think that city council is doing what is best for the city is foolish. They have done nothing except let snow pile up in the winter, raise taxes (and their own salaries) and make excuses. They sold Epcor and now they’re selling another asset. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that some councillors might not have a personal finacial stake in the outcome.

    Lorne Gunter might not feel it’s his airport, but its history belongs to every Edmontonian whose family fought Germany in the World War 2 and served in Bomber Command, Air Commonwealth Training, or on the Northwest Staging Route.

    Edmontonians should have the right to vote clearly on a question of closure for the airport.
    Sure, it will open up the whole question again, but so what? We owe it to ourselves as Edmontonians, and we owe it to our history.

  • KG

    I think it is a horribly short-sighted decision. I would agree that the tourniquet has once again tightened on the strategically planned death of the airport. Losing a key link to downtown and a crucial link for Medevacs to the Royal Alex Hospital when it is so close will surely cost someone their life someday. I wonder if they will ever study that. Last I heard, NAIT said that they would expland sometime in the next 20-50 years. Of course with 16-34 closed some prime condo land overlooking the Yellowhead and the Railway yard will become available. In their wisdom, they have closed the instrument rated runway at the airport. Sure they will have a GPS approach created, likely with high minimums which again may affect a Medevac flight from landing where they could be at a hospital in minutes. ERAA has not lived up to the contractual agreements and are getting away with doing so. I would agree with previous posts that something as important as this should go to a referendum.

  • Anytime and airport expands I think it’s a good thing!

  • I hope it was the right decision. As businessman who travels a lot though, this brought me anxiety.

  • What a bunch of dick heads !!

    A total waste of a great airport. I loved flin in to good ol cyxd.
    Did the mayor and the rest of his cronie retards even think of all the medivacs that go through there ??
    Just to put up a bunch of pos condos !?
    To all those who voted no.. thank you. you fought the good fight. to those who voted yes…

    up yours ya bunch of !@#$% fu@# stains !!
    fu#$ you !!
    fu#$ you long time !


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  • ella municle

    I love the airport so dont close it! I agree wiht tony katerina PLZ DONT CLOSE IT lol bye now i gtg but i’ll be back dont miss me

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  • mark f

    I get baffled by why so many people with little knowledge of the business city center airport brings in are so quick to support getting rid of it. Closing Edmonton’s airport would give Edmonton the dubious distinction of having the worst air access of any city in North America. The closure is supported by those without knowledge of air access or its value.
    To try to make it simple, try using Google earth to measure the distance from any city (say population 1/2 million or more) downtown core to the closest airport in North America. I haven’t found any city yet worse than Edmonton proposes to be. Perhaps if you search long enough you might find one. I would appreciate it if you could name that city so I could verify it.
    While the expanse of airport land appears quite large from the observer on the ground ( I find it a breath of fresh to see the openness of it in the city) it is actually a very tiny percentage of the total land area in the city. This becomes very obvious why I struggle to pick out the airport visually when flying in at night.
    I keep finding the assumption that other jobs like more retail stores and construction of housing are somehow more important than jobs servicing aircraft . Servicing aircraft jobs are important too. Aircraft are part of the transportation infrastructure that bring money in from outside. That extra money can than be circulated into the city economy resulting in more construction projects and shopping districts, but it is best to leave the airport land alone.
    It is an entirely separate argument to keep the airport for medevacs. Last night five medevacs landed in close succession. I was involved in a true lifesaving one where every minute counted, however we in that business are not allowed to ever discuss any details so it is impossible for us to debate it. I might say though that if you were on the plane I was last night to witness what happens first hand you would consider it insane to close the airport.
    We keep hearing people talk about helicopter medevacs and I’m sure that makes the Stars helicopter people very happy but they only do something in the ballpark of 10 percent of air medevacs. When you talk about helicopters think about going half as fast with half the fuel range at many times the cost. They are not part of the picture as far as most air medevacs ( the longer ones) go. For those of us in the industry the erroneous public perception generated ( heavily supported by Stars huge PR fund raising department) is very frustrating. We just do our job. We have no PR department.
    I hope this letter helps explain that there are multiple facets to support keeping the airport. Business, jobs saving lives, and pleasure for those that just like to watch the airplanes. The airport is not an unused piece of land.

  • Jay

    Just to quote the great Emperor Mandel in a recent article:
    Mr. Mandel is sure his town’s commercial success requires no such thing. “Hamilton doesn’t have two airports,” he says (Nat’l Post 07/15/10).

    According to his astute mind Edmonton should not be like the other silly metropolises that have an international and a relief airport (Montreal, Toronto, London, Paris, Los Angeles, etc) but should be more like the quaint “armpit of central Canada” 500 000-strong Hamilton. Good going guys!! Forget Edmonton trying to play with the big boys, maybe we should come down a few notches and stay in the sandbox. Kind on makes the $14 million bid for the world expo kind of pointless (another of the emperor’s pet projects).

  • I gotta say Mark F I’m appreciating your legwork on this. I always assumed that Edmonton without the Muni would be an outlier, I just didn’t realize we would be…the outlier.

    I still keep thinking about the Toronto Island Airport (now called, ironically, City Centre) and wondering how great this would be right here in our city. And in fact, we used to have it.

    And in fact, in 1992 the citizens of Edmonton voted to keep both airports to passenger travel. Yet the Mack Males and Scott McKeens of this world didn’t think “it was a dead issue”: they pressed on, and will not stop under the City Centre airport is gone, and their foolish pipe dreams of a “LEET green urban development” is in its place: a playground of perpetually unemployable professional students.

  • Ted

    I think it is not very smart to close the City airport, because it is could be used a lot for going up north.
    Also if it is closed everything will go to Calgary. We don’t need that.

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  • Mike S

    Toronto also has a City Centre Airport, CYTZ, it is located less than 10 minutes from downtown Toronto on Toronto Island. Image what the value of that real estate is. Funny though, you don’t hear a constant debate about wanting to shut that one down. At 120,000 to 160,000 flight per year, it is an obvious asset to the city of Toronto, especially the downtown traveller. Edmonton has a jewel in the heart of the city, why in the hell would city council want to get rid of it. Once it’s gone, there will no no putting it back. Imagine how many other cities would kill to have something as grand as this 10 minutes from their downtown.

    A little history for you, the airport was there first, in 1926 it was a patch of farmland, the runway was made by cutting down willow bushes and packing down the soil.

  • James

    Toronto area have large population which is 5 million people but for Edmonton, it is about 1,170,000 EIA can handle all the flight if ECCA was to closed down. ECCA does not lose jobs at all because jobs at EIA is created with expansion there, meaning it is about even.

  • Dave

    What a friggen joke Edmonton has become. Does the real estate industry run city council?

    Mandel has to disclose his campain contributers since Stelmack closed the loophole alowing big corporations to donate campain money annonomously in municipal elections.
    So….. this is his last chance for the big payoff. I hope he loses!

  • Bob

    city council says they need this land to develop a sustainable community and prevent urban sprawl – if they want to stop urban sprawl, then why don’t they stop isssuing development permits to the developers of the sprawling subdivisions. Avison Young says we have a 26 year inventory of undeveloped land in the city core than will not get developed if the redevelopment of airport land goes ahead, and that closure of the airport will cause urban decay in the downtown core. There is NO ECONOMIC BENEFIT in closing the airport, develop the vacant land we have and stop closing schools in the heart of the city, forcing families to move to the burbs.

  • FU mandel

    i see micheal phair’s name came up as supporting shutting down the muni….i must remind you that this said person was caught in a park with a gentleman of the night , no charges were laid but it was reported in the edmonton journal .

  • John V

    Phair! Excellent name to bring to the debate! Now I’m even more certain I’ll vote to keep the airport alive. Nice work Mack, but just a ‘little biased’ ? And I see you are getting a lot of letters that don’t support the closure.
    Well, besides all that crap, has anyone thought of how much we (taxpayers) will have to pay to clean up all the oil and gas left behind after WW2 before even thinking of developing? Environmentalists all! will be in our pants. And besides this cost to us, isn’t it obvious? Mandel is a land developer!!

  • doug

    So we as citizens of Edmonton do not know what is good for us, according to our city council, we do not need a City airport. Who are we to even suggest that we do? Major cities arround the world have municipal airports, or large ones within there city limits. Council has visions of making Edmonton a backwards blip on the map, a laugh among world civic communities. I say Vote the dictators out. We know what is good for us, if we did not then maybe they would rather we had No electoral say at all!! Come on Council cancell the election! 😉

  • Hey Edmontonians who support the airport:
    1. In the last 10 years, how many times have YOU personally purchased a ticket to fly from the Edmonton City Centre Airport.
    2. Emergency services to the North will not be affected as it’s not a difference in return travel. Helicopters still land at the hospital landing zones. The guy who argues that the 20km difference will be beyond range is ridiculous. What about those who are in a 20km range south that can’t get access?
    3. The reason why Edmonton has barely any skyline is that our downtown is limited in height due to the airport.
    4. Stop using Vancouver and Toronto as examples. Edmonton is not at the same level in population, nor is it an interchange hub of air travel to handle transfers for international traffic.
    5. Travel time from the core to the airport is conditional depending on city design and demographics. The design of Edmonton is dependent of car traffic, and since almost everyone has a car (or two), there has not been a need to build a high-speed system to the core of the city. When you look at NYC, where 40% of residents use public transit (56% don’t own cars), there is a huge need for public transit such as subway or cabs to service most places. Toronto is another huge transit city, hence a good transport to the airport. Calgary decided to build their development towards the airport, and we are starting to see that in South Edmonton now as it goes beyond the Heritage Valley.
    6. Many petitions and forms have a lot of illegitimate signatures and information. There are duplicates, unconfirmed residences, people who are not registered as residents, people not at voting age, people without complete addresses, incomplete names, no contact numbers for reference, and so on. Even on something like a tax donation form for a charity, you’d be surprised at how many people don’t fill out the form completely and expect a tax receipt.
    7. Stop knocking on peoples doors and threatening people to sign your petition. I know a few friends (I’m sure they’re not the only ones) who had door knockers that wouldn’t leave unless they signed the petition.
    8. Notice that media outlets who have a news chopper or use news chopper footage were the ones who jumped onto the bandwagon first, and have made a bigger stink about this than how it actually is? Who has sponsored the Global morning news? Envision. It’s no surprise that Edmontonians are being uninformed and force-fed the illusion of the ‘usefulness’ of ECCA.
    9. Instead of groaning about a decision that has already been made, let’s focus on building Edmonton and how we can make it better, rather than staying bitter for another 12 years.

  • Cdoyle

    I’m pretty sure we live in a DEMOCRATIC society so that no matter what councillors think it should ULTIMATELY be up to the people. How ignorant of our government to not give us the option of referendum. And no, I DO NOT support the closure of the airport but obviously, we the people, don’t matter.

  • Larry Switzer

    This airport was the gateway to the north,
    well the gateway is gone and the assholes responsible will probably get rich.
    Remember Mandell at the next election

  • Larry Switzer

    It’s interesting that council
    could destroy in 4.5 hrs. something that has been
    here from the beginning.
    Must be a lot of money involved.
    I wonder who profits??

  • Riding a Airport limousines is already a trend and also on its nearby places. 

  • Hoping for the success of the project. 

  • Muni Supporter

    Long live the Muni.  Funny how it’s come out that the mayor got way over the legal amount for his campaign from a nuch of land developers and real estate types.

    This airport whould be purchased by the province for the good of all Albertans.  That will be far cheaper than the hundreds of millions more it will cost to replace the perfectly good Medevac system we enjoy today.  I encourage everyone to read the Health Quality Council report on Medevac and see what this is going to cost Albertans.

    The Emporer and his cronies likely stand to benefit a whole bunch from this and a lot of other dumb things he’s steering a mindless council towards.  Unfortunately he’ll be dead and gone by the time the full extent of his grand follies are realized.  They’ll have much quieter passenger transports that can easily get in and out of small airports in 25 years, and we’ll be driving 45 minutes to that albatross CYEG to catch them because of this lack of any kind of sight at all.

    There are strategists with vision, and then their are mindless amateurs like the Emporer .  We could have the biggest advanced avionics program in North America at the Muni/NAIT.  We could continue to have world class medevac.  We could have a viable airport to pick up all the small traffice that the International is forcing out.  Nope, we’re going to kill a perfectly viable airport and plant houses on carcinogens in a mindless development where there are no cars, for which equally mindless architects produce tacky videos showing airplanes and airplanes landing between bridges on 500 feet of fake river.  Only imbelciles could be sucked in by this folly.  Keep the airport and you won’t have to invent the airplanes.

    It’s a damn shame, and I sure hope the Province or the Feds save this airport before its too late.

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  • andrew sullivan

    it is really interesting project , hope so become success because
    Edmonton’s city is a big part in Canada, so bless success this project very soon

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