Low-flying aircraft

Last year there were 27,500 recorded aircraft movements at the Penticton Regional Airport (YYF), comprised of 15,500 itinerant aircraft movements – including arriving and departing WestJet, Air Canada and Orca Airways flights – and 12,000 local movements predominantly associated with flight training. Local movements peaked at 186 in one day last April and 54 in just one hour last November – almost 1 every minute.

There are 2 licensed flight schools based at Penticton airport: HNZ Topflight providing helicopter pilot training and BP Aviation providing fixed-wing airplane pilot training.

Transport Canada has approved a training circuit over the City of Penticton at a minimum altitude of 1170 feet, the equivalent of a 100+ storey building. This circuit is preferred for fixed-wing aircraft pilot training. The first problem is that most training flights include as many simulated approaches or touch-and-go landings as possible during each training session, leading to circuits that are completed in as little as 5 minutes.  That is why you can experience the same plane flying over your neighbourhood as many as 10 times in an hour! That is also why aircraft making circuits are seldom, if ever, above the 1170 foot level.  In risk terms, the more frequent the number of circuits made, the greater the potential for a plane crash.  In annoyance terms, the lower the altitude and more frequent the occurrence, the greater the negative impact on the wellbeing of residents living below the airspace.

HNZ Topflight, on the other hand, appears to encourage their instructors and student pilots to treat the skies over our part of the South Okanagan as their own personal playground; to fly wherever they want, whenever they want – day or night – on whatever routing they fancy, as often as they wish, at whatever altitude they choose. Who is to tell them otherwise ? 

The City of Penticton has no authority to intervene on behalf of its citizens and, because in 2014 they mysteriously dissolved the Airport Select Committee – a forum including representation from city council, city management, local tourism, airport management, PIB and RDOS – appear to have no desire either, as long as flight training continues to bring in dollars to the tourism industry during the slow-seasons.

Transport Canada’s website states you should contact local airport management to voice your concerns. My experience has been the airport manager is either unable or unwilling to influence the number, frequency, timing or altitude of training flights in the airspace over the City and PIB lands.  Maybe it is because HNZ Topflight is arguably the airport’s major tenant – or perhaps it is simply because impacted residents do not know how to go about making their concerns known.

If you believe the reason Penticton Regional Airport exists is to serve the needs of the residents of the South Okanagan, and that businesses operating out of that facility should treat their neighbours with respect, please consider letting the airport manager know that you support establishing an effective Airport Noise Management Committee at YYF. Let our mayor and councillors know too.

If you are concerned about the negative impacts on your wellbeing due to low-flying aircraft over your neighbourhood please consider calling Transport Canada’s toll-free phone number for reporting low-flying aircraft: 1-800-305-2059 > press 1 for english > press 4 for low flying aircraft > press 5 for Pacific Region.

Patrick Gayler

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The opinions expressed here are strictly those of the author. Castanet does not in any way warrant the information presented.

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