The runway lights at the privately owned Duncan Airport may soon have to be turned off after dark, and that could impact emergency services and put lives in jeopardy.
Kevin Maher, a member of the Duncan Flying Club that operates the airport and is its safety and regulations-compliance manager, said the club has been leaving the runway lights on 24/7, at their expense, for many years to allow emergency services — including BC Ambulance and Search & Rescue — to use the runway when necessary during an emergency at any time of the day, which they often do.
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But he said a number of tall trees at the end of the runway have now grown high enough to impede aircraft taking off and landing, particularly at night, and the dangerous situation may mean the club could have to shut down the lights when it is dark out to avoid accidents.
That means any emergency personnel on the ground at the airport at night will be left in the dark.
“We realized two years ago that something had to be done with those trees, which are located on private property just to the south of the airport, and we are required by law to protect our approach paths,” Maher said.
“The trees are becoming difficult to navigate around during the days, which is the only times our members use the airport, but it is becoming a critical situation at night. If a natural disaster struck the Cowichan Valley, this airport would be very important in the aftermath.”
Maher said club members approached the property owner and offered to pay to take down the trees or trim them enough so they wouldn’t impeded the airport.
He said the club even offered to pay the property owner market value for the trees, but to no avail.
“The property owner never gave us a reason why he won’t let us deal with the trees,” Maher said.
“There’s just no logic to it.”
The Citizen called the property owner to ask why he refuses to deal with the trees, but he declined to comment.
Maher said if the airport was certified and had regularly scheduled passenger flights arriving and leaving, like the Nanaimo Airport, the club would then be allowed to do whatever is necessary to deal with the tree problem, but as it’s a private airport catering to private pilots, they have no legal standing to do anything to deal with the issue.
“If we can’t resolve this within the next few weeks, we’ll have to close the airport to night operations,” he said. “If it comes to that, I will have to call each of the emergency operators that use the airport and explain the situation.”