Local airport important for emergency services

Municipal airport sees growth as more people take to the skies

By William McGinn

Malcolm Cook, manager, Kawartha Lakes Municipal Airport. Keeping the runways clear is integral for safety. Photo: William McGinn.

Landing planes is a job not just for pilots but for the on-the-ground support, too. That’s where Kawartha Lakes Municipal Airport manager, Malcolm Cook, comes in.

That starts with ensuring there’s nothing like snow, rocks or animals that would trip up the wheels of the planes that want to land. Sometimes wildlife needs to be scared off, most commonly birds. It’s an important aspect of the job, considering lives can easily end up on the line, given this is the only facility in Kawartha Lakes available for Ornge medical evacuations and is constantly used for life-saving missions.

Cook began working at the airport in 2017 shortly after graduating from Seneca College’s flight program. He took over as manager a year later. He started off in operations such as cutting grass, helping pilots with fueling and plowing snow. A lot of that he still does, in addition to working communications, giving advisories, assisting in mechanical failures and managing budgets.

The airport manager said it’s a good feeling when he gets to use his skills (and tools) to provide aid to stranded pilots or after a successful response to an emergency. He works for the Loomex group, a third-party contractor hired by the city who also manages Peterborough’s airport. Their calling list keeps Cook and others on their toes to be prepared to manage the port at any time of day.

Plane Sizes and Emergency Use

Kawartha Lakes Municipal Airport can handle planes which carry up to 11 passengers, which includes the airport’s “critical aircraft,” like the Beechcraft B200 Super King Air which can carry up to nine. The airport also sees C-130 Hercules planes a couple times a month, which can carry up to 80 passengers, using the runway for touch-and-go training exercises — but they do not actually stop and land.

Cook hinted that a new “crosswind runway” will soon be coming to the airport, which will give pilots more safe choices for landing. Most airports have east-west oriented runways because in this part of Ontario most of the wind tends to come out of the west, but Cook said sometimes planes in flight schools like theirs cannot have anything up in the air if winds instead pick up from the north or south. Having an unconventional runway that works with this possibility will “give a higher level of operational safety, convenience and stability.” Since beginning, Cook has seen improvement like a helipad area paved for Ornge Medevac, an overlay of their main runway and an extended taxiway.

The manager said that without the local airport, dealing with emergencies and flights around the region would be more difficult. This airport utilizes a “relatively uncommon but effective” fueling method. Cook explained a lot of airports have fixed-base operators with fuel trucks that are not always available at the ready, but theirs has a 24-hour cardlock self-service that allows more instant and reliable refilling.

Is there a doctor in the air?

Cook said there are many doctors in the area who tend to own their own planes and use the airport frequently.

“A lot of people express desire to get their pilot’s license and when they relocate, they’re going to look for somewhere that supports that,” he explained.

“The fact we have an airport here that can accommodate their hobby and lifestyle is a big thing.”

About half of the airport tenants have their own airplanes which cost between $30-50,000. However, prices can also be as high as $300,000. Insurance premiums are similar to that of a car.

45 hours + 45 hours

Getting a pilot’s license can happen through instructors through the flight school or with freelance instructors. On average it takes about 45 hours of ground instruction and an additional 45 hours of flight training.

Cook said the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) has recently seen more people getting into the general aviation lifestyle and showing interest in getting their licenses and bringing events back.

“It doesn’t take an astronaut to be a pilot, but it takes a pilot to be an astronaut,” said Cook.

While most airports are unable to make enough money and instead rely on city support to stay operable, the local airport is financially self-sustaining. It makes enough money from hangar rentals and fuel sales, and has a reputation for fair fuel prices, inviting a lot of pilots from surrounding communities.

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