Winnipeg International fights to preserve 24-hour status

An aerial view of the terminal at Winnipeg International Airport (photo: Facebook/Winnipeg Richardson International Airport).

Winnipeg International Airport is waging a political battle against proposed urban development on its doorstep in an effort to preserve its status as a 24-hour operation.

A proposal by Toronto-based developer Cadillac-Fairview would see Polo Park, the largest shopping centre in Winnipeg and home to the city’s former football stadium and hockey arena, transformed into a dense, walkable development, potentially home to thousands of people.

But those new homes would be right under the flight path of one of Winnipeg’s runways, potentially leading to conflicts over noise. And that could threaten the airport’s ability to operate overnight.

Talks aimed at resolving what is shaping up to be a Goliath and Goliath battle between two major economic centres in Winnipeg have not produced an agreement. This week, Cadillac-Fairview’s Director of Development, Michael Peiser told city council the two sides were at loggerheads.

“While the discussion was respectful and cordial,” wrote Peiser, “there was unanimous agreement that a solution satisfactory to [the Winnipeg Airport Authority] and ourselves would not be forthcoming.”

To break the impasse, Peiser asked council to give preliminary approval to his company’s proposal, and send the issue to a public hearing.

Noise is typically the most important environmental concern an airport can face. It’s also one of the most frustrating, particularly for affected residents. Departing jets passing overhead are loud, and despite technological leaps, they still have the power to rattle windows.

Airports go out of their way to try to limit noise pollution, routing planes over unpopulated areas and establishing minimum altitudes. Toronto’s Pearson International piloted flight routes this summer that gave residents quiet periods during alternate weekends. On the West Coast, Vancouver International closes one of its two runways every night to avoid disturbing nearby residents.

But an airport’s best shot at maintaining 24-hour operations – other than being located in an open field surrounded by farmland – is to prevent residential development under the flight paths. Strict rules at the national and local level aim to curb new residential development in those areas, or as a last resort, force builders to install acoustic measures to deal with the noise.

Overnight departures from runway 13 at Winnipeg International Airport could be threatened by proposed development under the flight path (photo: Twitter/@YWGairport).

Even before this week’s meeting, there were signs that the airport authority would fight hard to keep new homes out from under runway 13’s flight path.

“We have seen time and again significant issues in communities where they failed to properly plan and located residential development too close to airport operations,” wrote Tyler MacAfee, Vice President – Communications and Government Relations for the Winnipeg Airport Authority in a letter.

Winnipeg International set a record in 2018, surpassing 4.5 million passengers for the first time. It also recorded a nine per cent jump in cargo traffic, which typically flies late at night to reach its destination the next morning.

“We remain committed to respecting WAA’s desire to protect the 24 hour status of the Winnipeg James A Richardson International Airport,” wrote Peiser. “We will explore all measures to ensure noise mitigation described by [Transport Canada] Guidelines for residential development within identified noise contours.”

Winnipeg city council has twice pushed back a vote on giving the proposal a public hearing to allow the sides more time to negotiate. The issue – including Cadillac-Fairview’s request for a public hearing – returns to the city’s Executive Committee on Tuesday.