Edmonton group opposes airport closure

A group is fighting to keep Edmonton's City Centre Airport open and they say closing it could mean life-threating delays in medical service.

A group fighting to keep Edmonton City Centre Airport open says closing it could mean life-threatening delays in medical service.

Envision Edmonton circulated a petition Thursday demanding a  plebiscite on city council's 2009 decision to close the airport.

Chuck Allard, chair of the group, said closing the airport will compromise medevac services to the city and could cost lives.

The first of two runways is scheduled to close at the end of July.

"Closing the runway at the City Centre Airport would restrict access to the health services and create a delay of 25 to 30 minutes even in good weather and a much longer delay in bad weather," said Dr. Joseph Fernando, a specialist in aviation medicine. "Delaying medevac flights costs lives."

Closure of the airport would not only affect people in Edmonton but also those in western Nunavut and the Northwest Territories whose medevac flights land there.

Edmonton Coun. Tony Caterina, who signed the petition, said the decision to close the airport was not well-informed.

"If it was up to me we'd put it on as a plebiscite regardless," Caterina said. "I believe that the decision that was made was not the right decision because it was void of all information. There's so many questions that will take years to answer."

Among the questions, he said, are how much remediation costs will be and whether anyone is interested in developing the land.

Coun. Ron Hayter and NDP Leader Brian Mason also signed the petition.

Envision Edmonton's spokeswoman Maryanne Stanway said jobs, medevac flights and a strong city centre are at stake.

"We think it should be up to the people to make a decision, especially if it's something as dramatic as closing it," said Stanway, who owns an air charter business.

City Centre Airport, built in 1929, was the first licensed airstrip in Canada and occupies 217 hectares downtown.

A report released in June 2008 estimated the land, if sold, could accommodate 32,000 homes and earn the city an additional $95 million in property taxes.

However, the airport is home to a number of businesses, and some argue it brings a significant economic benefit to the community.

Envision Edmonton, which had 3,000 signatures before Canada Day, needs 80,000 by the end of August to ensure a plebiscite.