Q&A with Kevin Psutka
Jan. 25, 2010 – WINGS recently sat down with Kevin Psutka, COPA’s president and CEO, to discuss the key issues facing general aviation. Access to airports, security restrictions, airspace limitations and the ageing pilot population were top of mind during our discussion.
January 25, 2010 By Frederick K. Larkin
Jan. 25, 2010 – WINGS recently sat down with Kevin Psutka, COPA’s
president and CEO, to discuss the key issues facing general aviation. Access to
airports, security restrictions, airspace limitations and the ageing pilot
population were top of mind during our discussion.
Q:Could you describe COPA’s role within the general aviation (GA) community?
A: First, GA is all aviation activity that is not airlines or military. This
includes for example medevacs, flight training, police, fire fighting, and oh
yes, personal aviation.
aviation, which COPA represents, is that portion of GA where aircraft are flown
for personal transportation and recreation. Like a family car, it is a form of
transportation for thousands in Canada.
Why is the number of airports in Canada slowly contracting?
Many airports (certified aerodromes), registered and non-registered aerodromes
used by GA are under pressure because there is no policy at any level of
government that recognizes the need for a system of landing facilities to
connect this country by air. The only document in play is the National Airports
Policy from the 1990s, whose flawed goal was to divest all but the 26 major
airports in Canada. This is not a system, but a limited string of airports
serving a fraction of aviation. As a consequence, regional and smaller airports
and aerodromes are subject to the whims of local interests and decisions that
will destroy the system of airports over time. With no plan to prevent this
from happening, it is logical to foresee a significant deterioration of the
infrastructure in key areas of Canada.
are seeing this at work in Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal as we speak, where
Edmonton City Centre, Cooking Lake, Buttonville, St. Hubert and Mascouche are
under threat. There is no plan to replace these important and very active GA
airports that, among other things, serve as reliever airports for the airline
airports. I doubt that the traffic from these airports would be welcome at the
major airports and for various reasons most of the traffic cannot be absorbed
by other airports. So, this activity will have to disappear and GA will decline
Can GA activity coexist harmoniously with that of the airlines at major
Coexisting is becoming more difficult because of security concerns as well as
the attitude of some airport management. Capacity issues at the major airports
make it increasingly difficult to accommodate smaller aircraft. Hence, landing
fees and other restrictions are intentionally driving GA away from the major airline
airports. As smaller airports close, the larger airports will become even more
important as a destination for GA. GA can safely coexist if the will is there.
What actions might be taken to assure that private aircraft operators retain
meaningful access to key airfields over the next ten years?
A: Regarding security, designate and develop areas of an airport that are
physically separate from airline operations and make them subject to reasonable
levels of security so that GA can continue at these airports. Regarding fees,
recognize the relatively minor impact that GA has on the infrastructure and
therefore charge reasonable fees for this incremental use. Regarding access,
provide runway approach and departure procedures that safely accommodate GA
aircraft for minimal interference with airline operations. Ottawa International
is an excellent example of the latter point, where a separate runway provides
for complimentary operations.
Post 9/11, have the airside security restrictions at Canadian airports been
reasonable or too harsh for private operators?
It depends on the airport. While so far we have not seen unreasonable
restrictions or requirements, there are proposals in discussion that would make
it impossible for GA to access many major airports. An example is a proposal
for everyone on airside (inside the fence) at airports serving the airlines to
have a restricted area identification card (only available to employees) or be
escorted at all times. This would be unworkable for many GA operators and
certainly impossible for personal aviation.
Q:Have these restrictions unduly hampered operational flexibility?
Not so far.
Do you see the level of security tightening further down the road?
As long as the world continues on its current path, I am afraid that we will
see increasing pressure, be it from irresponsible media hype to create paranoia
or from actual terrorist acts or threats, that will result in additional layers
of security being imposed. The recently-introduced eAPIS program for entering
and exiting the US by small aircraft is just one example of things to come. Our
government refused to get involved in negotiations with the US government to
reduce the requirements. I believe that this is in part due to a lack of understanding
on the part of the security authorities of the contribution of GA to our
economy and the negative impact that increasing security will have on our
Have the restrictions related to the Olympic games in Vancouver been excessive?
Yes. For our sector, the greatest problem is the length of the restrictions,
and in a significant portion of the airspace there will be a complete
prohibition for personal aviation. While this may be tolerable for a short
duration, the prohibitions will be in place for a very long time (29 January
until 24 March), including the period between the Olympics and the Paralympics,
when there are few or no targets for the terrorists. This is unreasonable.
Besides the loss of freedom, some aircraft will experience airworthiness issues
from lack of use and pilots will lose currency during the grounding of
Do you anticipate any issues associated with the G20 meetings in Toronto next
I understand that a recent realization that the G20 cannot be accommodated in
the Huntsville area means that it most likely will be held in Toronto. This is
a concern. It was bad enough that the G8 in Huntsville will ground hundreds of
floatplanes and other aircraft at the peak time of the year, but an expansion
to Toronto would cause an even more significant disruption of air traffic in
and around Toronto. Running the G20 to follow-on from the G8 will mean a more
extensive period of restrictions in an area of the country with considerable GA
activity that is normally at a peak at that time of year. Thousands of aircraft
and pilots will be affected by the G20. It is clear that our government does
not appreciate the impact of their decisions when they offer to hold these
conferences near major centres of aviation activity. This is most unfortunate.
Could airspace regulations related to special event security be simplified in
any particular manner?
Yes. Through meaningful dialogue with representatives of the industry it should
be possible to create reasonable restrictions commensurate with clearly
identified threats. This has not been the case so far. We want to do our part
to ensure adequate security, but prohibition of GA “just to be sure” is not the
way to go. Significant economic damage is done each time these prohibitions
Given Canada’s demographics, what degree of reduction do you foresee in the
pilot population over the next 20 years?
I do not have a firm number, but it is reasonable to assume that if nothing is
done to encourage people to get into this field, there will be a significant
decline from the baby boomers retiring and few young people coming into the
system. An additional factor is our changing population. Many immigrants come
from countries where GA does not exist and therefore it may not occur to them
that aviation is available as a career, a form of transportation or hobby. We
all have a role to play in making the public aware of aviation, its importance
and its potential so that these new Canadians can appreciate, support and engage
If our changing demographics is not enough to deal with, a major contributing
factor is airport and flight training school closures that are making it
increasingly difficult to get training and then to engage in flying. We have
lost a number of flight schools in recent years. Young people need conveniently
located training facilities in order to reduce their overall costs, including
accommodation and transportation to and from the facility.
What measures could be taken to mitigate that expected decline?
Airports must be recognized by those who decide their fate that they are
valuable, among many other reasons, for flight training, and consequently
schools can be encouraged to locate there. Similarly, airport managers must
realize the value of schools to their future (generating pilots for the
airlines who then use their airport) and ensure that incentives are in place to
attract and retain them.
What incentives might be employed to encourage the expansion of flight training
Decades ago the federal government encouraged people to get into aviation by
providing rebates on their training. We need to return to this incentive
program. In addition, although there is some minor tax relief for training
costs, it should be broadened to make aviation training a more financially
achievable option for young people.
Canada's economy is highly dependent upon it aviation industry. Are its policy
makers adequately aware of this?
No. It is difficult to believe that, in a country where a majority of its land
mass is inaccessible for most or all of the year except by small aircraft,
there is no policy in place that recognizes the value of GA to our way of life
and that it is so hard to get the government’s attention to the plight of GA.
COPA has been pushing for many years for a long overdue review of the National
Airports Policy and development of a GA policy. The government remains
reluctant to recognize that the multi-billion dollar industry is threatened by
this lack of recognition.
Aviation is seen by some as a playground for the privileged. How can those who
hold that opinion be enlightened?
This is a broad brush with which all of GA is painted. When, for example, the
public and politicians were made aware of the impending closure of Buttonville
airport, they responded with comments about rich boys and toys. In fact rich
boys and toys is a minor portion of the activity. Buttonville is the most
heavily used airport by government of any airport in Canada, in addition to
extensive training of tomorrow’s airline pilots, mechanics, and so on. I wonder
if a critically ill child whose life is saved by air transport from a GA
airport in a remote part of Canada to a GA airport near a specialty hospital is
“privileged”? If those airports or
aircraft were not available what would happen to these “privileged” people? Or
what about a community that is evacuated by GA aircraft from a GA airport near
an uncontrolled forest fire? Are they “privileged”? One major difference between
developed countries apart from the third world is that in every one of the
third world countries GA is virtually non-existent. It is logical to conclude
that Canada, with its vast regions accessible only by GA aircraft, would
deteriorate toward third world status if GA declines.
What do you think Canada's GA scene will look like in a decade?
That entirely depends on whether or not municipal, provincial and federal
governments realize that in order for aviation in general to be healthy and
continue to contribute to Canada’s quality of life, general aviation must be
healthy. The pilots and mechanics for the airlines come from GA. From GA
airports that are so vital to the air transportation system come many of the
passengers and cargo to feed the hubs. Without the lower end, the upper end
will suffer. This is fact. Just look at China, where a lack of GA has made it
very difficult to grow their airline industry. China is very dependent upon
others, including Canada, to provide training for its pilots and in some cases
occupy its cockpits. Furthermore, China realizes that developing GA is the key
to its aviation independence. If we are not careful Canada will have to become
dependent on other countries, including China, for pilots in the not too
will not entirely disappear. There will be pockets of activity, but I am
concerned about the system that connects this country. Left unchecked, a spiral
effect from airport and flight school closures will see a significant
contraction of aviation activity. For a country so rich in aviation history and
a demonstrated contribution to making Canada a world class country, this would
truly be a shame.