December 20, 2021 By Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press
In a bid to introduce the Whitecourt Airport to pilots from all over, Woodlands County Council and the Airport Advisory Committee recently heard about two potential events for 2022/2023 that could bring a large contingent of pilots to CYZU (airport code). The first idea put forward is entirely out of the box and will likely get a lot of excitement from area residents.
Formula Air Racing is kind of like Nascar in the sky. Just like racing on the ground, planes are categorized based on engine capabilities and size. The STIHL National Championship Air Races have been taking place in Reno, Nevada, for over 50 years and are considered a legacy in the sport. Eight planes race side by side, wing tip to wing tip, and race around a designated circuit that is a few miles long.
The Formula 1 category features planes with the 100 hp Continental 0-200 engine, the same engine inside a Cessna 150. Many of the pilots who run in this category build their planes and reach around 250 mph. Formula 1 is the category being looked into for the Whitecourt Airport.
“Our Administration was approached to host Formula 1 Air Racing in July of 2022. This will be the first exposure in Canada, and their proposal is that the racing takes place in Whitecourt, followed by the following weekend in Grande Prairie. At this point, we don’t have additional information, but the first step is getting approval from the folks at our site,” explained Director of Infrastructure Andre Bachand. “We don’t foresee any significant costs to the County other than some staff time dealing with the event holders.”
Bachand said there were some differences between what takes place in Reno yearly and what would potentially occur in Whitecourt. One difference was that there would be four planes, rather than eight, racing at once. Aircraft would have a flying start and whiz around an oval sky track low enough to see pylons marking their trajectory. It would be quite a sight to see.
CYZU was identified as a prime candidate due to airspace availability and the centrally located location. The idea is to generate attention for the airport by bringing in an audience. Not only would the pilots be introduced to the area, but so would the crowds that would undoubtedly travel to the Whitecourt Airport to watch the action.
Though Canada hasn’t had exposure to Formula Air Racing within its borders, Canadian pilots attend events worldwide. One of note is Edmonton pilot Scott Holmes. He recently placed second in the 2021 Formular 1 Silver event in Reno, Nevada, reaching speeds of 168 miles per hour. A few years into his career, Holmes was named Rookie of the Year on the Formula 1 Air Racing tour in 2016. More information on whether the event will occur at the Whitecourt Airport next year will come early in 2022.
The second idea brought forward was the 2023 COPA National Fly In Event. “Administration identified that the 2023 COPA National Event is going to be in Western Canada. We are proposing that we submit a proposal to COPA, which is the Canadian Owners Pilots Association, once they put their request out, which is expected in January,” explained Bachand.
“The National Fly In involves anywhere from 150 to 200 planes on average coming into the area and is held over three to four days. There are pilots, their families, and manufacturers, similar to the RMA tradeshow on a smaller scale. An event of this size would be pretty significant for this area. It would be too big for the County to take on its own, so we would be recommending that we partner with the local COPA flight, Chamber of Commerce and Town of Whitecourt. We are in the process of preparing the proposal for COPA to consider,” he concluded.
Councillor Dave Kusch said he thought it would be great for the community. “It’s good publicity to get out there for Woodlands County, the Town of Whitecourt and Mayerthorpe and anyone around us.” Deputy Mayor Alan Deane queried Administration on liability for the race specifically. “One of the conditions for hosting the air racing is that we have to submit to NAF Canada. The event is covered by the air racing coordinator. It’s all under their insurance. One of the conditions would be that Woodlands County is conditionally named under their insurance,” explained Bachand.
Woodlands County Council approved the pursuit of both the 2022 Formula 1 Air Racing and the 2023 COPA National Fly In Event. The motion included sending a letter to three potential partners asking for their support and assistance in preparing the COPA proposal.