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Planes flying home this spring

Planes will once again be taking off at the Okotoks Airport this spring after being closed for a year.
Okotoks Airport manager Trent Obrigewitsch on the tarmac on March 24. The airport is reopening on April 30 after being closed for a year.
Okotoks Airport manager Trent Obrigewitsch on the tarmac on March 24. The airport is reopening on April 30 after being closed for a year.

Planes will once again be taking off at the Okotoks Airport this spring after being closed for a year.

The airport was closed in April 2016 after a report from Transport Canada listed 14 deficiencies at the site that would have to be mitigated before its operating certificate could be renewed. At the time, it was expected to be closed until October 2016.

Issues at the airport included an increase in wildlife on and near the premises and the facility not being up-to-code with new safety regulations for registered airports.

Bryce Medd, Okotoks Air Ranch manager, said he’s looking forward to seeing activity at the airport pick up again. The targeted date for reopening is April 30.

“We’re continuing to do all the things that were deemed to be necessary and other things to get Transport Canada to feel that it was a safe place,” said Medd. “We’ve built 1,000 metres of fencing, we’ve secured the perimetre of the airport to deal with the humans and the beasts, which certainly was a primary safety issue.”

Air Ranch partners enlisted consultant group Universal Aviation Services to achieve its goals. The two groups worked with the regulator, Canada Transport Agency, to develop a corrective action plans to address the list of concerns.

Trent Obrigewitsch, with Universal Aviation Services, said it’s been a lot of work to bring the airport back up to snuff. He’s confident everything will be complete by April 30. The reopen date may even be earlier if the checklist is complete, he said.

“We’re just in the process now of closing out the corrective action plans that will satisfy Transport Canada,” said Obrigewitsch. “That’s our primary focus, so the (operating) certificate will be returned and we can reopen.”

Besides adding fencing along the runway and between hangars, other work has involved addressing concerns overlighting, maintenance and operations, he said. A more permanent structure will be provided for day-to-day needs, so someone will be on-site during operating hours, he said.

The news has pleased some neighbours, who were forced to move their aircraft to other locations like Springbank or High River airports last spring, he said.

“They want access to their home air facility and we anticipate getting back all the folks that were using the facility before they left for the voluntary closure,” said Obrigewitsch.

It’s not enough for one businessman.

Pat Gropp owner of GeodesyGroup Inc., an aerial imaging company that began operating out of Okotoks in 2006, was forced to move his aircraft to High River last April. Now, he’s moving his entire $2-million business operation to High River, with office space in the town.

“It’s too little too late,” said Gropp. “To be honest, we just don’t have the confidence going forward it’s really going to work out. We’re no longer Okotokians, unfortunately.”

He said he’s seen the work being actively done at the airport over the past few months, but it’s not enough to make him stay. There’s a chance the solutions they’ve come up with are short-term, he said, if the airport doesn’t start operating differently.

The airport needs to move to a fixed-base operation, he said, which would include fuel sales and maintenance support services to make it more attractive.

“It needs to move away from this private air ranch concept and it has to become a community airport,” said Gropp. “The airport definitely, eventually, could become revenue-neutral and self-supporting, but it would never be sustainable as this idea of a private air ranch like you have houses around golf courses.”

He said the airport needs to incorporate a mix of general aviation, private flight and commercial operators in order to become financially stable. In the meantime, he said there’s been rumours the airport is planning to approach the Town of Okotoks for help with operating budget.

Elaine Vincent, Okotoks CAO, said there hasn’t been any discussion about financial assistance at this time.

“They have approached the Town in terms of understanding a future governance model to provide oversight to the airport, which may in fact ultimately lead to funding, but that has certainly not been part of the conversation to-date,” said Vincent.

She said the airport currently operates under a limited partnership model, but under the municipal authority it could move to an airport commission. The Air Ranch partners met with the Town to understand the mechanics of a commission and how it would work, she said.

Under the Canada Airports Act, municipalities are prevented from being a member of a commission, but could play a role by appointing the members, she said.

“There’s a separate authority under the act to be an appointer, and lots of times a municipality will take on that appointer role,” said Vincent. “But these are early, early discussions because we don’t even know if that’s the structure they’re going to embrace going forward.”

Krista Conrad

About the Author: Krista Conrad

Krista Conrad is the news reporter for and the Western Wheel newspaper covering Okotoks and Foothills County. For story tips contact
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