With two aviation accidents only days apart, concerns are being raised about the safety and location of the half century-year-old Courtenay Airpark.
But pilot and flight instructor Andreas Ruttkiewicz says while he understands public concern, aviation has the highest safety record of any transport medium.
“The regulations, the training, the constant updating, the maintenance are way and above cars and motorcycles or anything like that we take for granted. There’s accidents every day with motorcycles and snowmobiles and quad runners … where there’s absolutely no regulation.”
Last Thursday, a small plane ran into the fence at the south end of the runway upon landing. There were no injuries reported in that incident. Two days later, another plane clipped the roof of the Comox Valley Animal Hospital and crashed in the nearby parking lot, sending pilot Chris Cameron to hospital in Victoria.
Ruttkiewicz owns Airspeed High Ultralights at the airpark, and notes the location and placement of the runway in Courtenay “is a jewel.”
“It’s incredibly convenient, and for the community as a whole, it brings people far and wide to discover the Valley and for the local aviators, it’s convenient and beautiful at the same time,” he explains.
“People love (airparks); they actually go to those airparks because they are close to town. It’s an attractor.”
Ruttkiewicz explains Saturday’s incident was “devastating” as he believes he was probably the last person to speak with Cameron prior to the crash. He was flying while Cameron was getting ready to join in the circuit when the pair spoke with each other on the radio. Upon landing an hour later, Ruttkiewicz found out what had happened.
“I’ve been in aviation for a long time. I was in the military, I’ve flown in the Forces, and I’ve seen a few of my buddies go that way, and it’s like anything else, it’s not pleasant.”
This time of year, he says, people have their aircraft in a hangar for six months during the winter, and haven’t flown for half a year, and there may be situations where pilots don’t do their due diligence.
“They don’t come to an instructor and say ‘I need a refresher before I go up in my aircraft,’” he adds.
“It’s like a gun. If you have a gun in a drawer, it’s just a piece of metal. You put it in someone’s hands, and it can be either useful or dangerous. Same with an aircraft – it’s judgment of the pilot.”
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula acknowledges concerns for the airpark, but adds council has not yet come around to any discussions about long-term use of the space.
“There certainly have been over the past number of years discussions about the airpark, about the location, about whether it should be moved out to the country into a more rural-type area,” he says.
“I know there’s been complaints about noise, I know there’s been complaints about people walking and aircrafts flying over top. It’s certainly something that’s been mentioned before – it’s not new.”
While he knows there have been some incidents at the airpark over the years, he explains the flip side to having the park in Courtenay is that it is good for the local economy. He also understands aviation as a whole is safer than other transportation.
“It’s shown by fact, that aircraft are much safer than vehicles are, so, it’s a tough call. It’s something in light of what happened we will likely eventually be looking at it in a more serious nature, but in the immediate time I would say we’re not going to change anything.”