A group of tenants at the Chilliwack Airport say they are being unfairly vilified in the wake of complaints they made about noisy flights of aerobatic pilot Super Dave Mathieson.
Mathieson, a professional air show performer, was grounded earlier this month from practising his aerobatic manoeuvres below 2000 feet, after notification from Transport Canada restricting the practice sessions over “noise sensitive” areas.
A huge groundswell of support for Super Dave erupted online over the past week since The Progress story broke, with many supporters urging Transport Canada to reverse the decision.
Fans of Super Dave also organized a last minute support rally at the Chilliwack airport on Sunday afternoon which drew about 50 people, and an online petition supporting the pilot has more than 2200 signatures.
Over the weekend scanned versions of complaint letters to Transport Canada were posted online from 17 local businesses and individuals, without their permission. It is not known who released the letters, originally sent to Transport Canada, and shared with City of Chilliwack, and Magnum Management, which runs the airport through an operation agreement.
The letter-writers say as result of the letters being posted publicly, they have faced threats of boycotts, legal action, angry denunciations, with intense public debate appearing on social media sites.
They’ve been told repeatedly if they don’t like the noise, they should simply leave town.
“Dave Mathieson is a benefit to our community and the noise his plane makes for a few minutes a day isn’t nearly as bad as my neighbour’s lawn mower on Sunday morning. Let the man practice where he is,” commented Barbara Bird online.
Some of the tenants, who met with the Chilliwack Progress on Monday, say they’re legitimate business owners who made “legitimate complaints,” and don’t deserve the angry backlash from the public.
Joe Martin, spokesperson for some of the airport tenants, said their concerns extend beyond noise, to safety issues. Martin is not one of the 17 letter-writers, but argues the excessive noise of the practice flights have been undermining the tenants’ ability to peacefully conduct their business.
During the annual air show there are specific conditions in place such as a “safety box” for aerobatics, closure of the airport to other air traffic, and everyone cleared out of nearby buildings, all for safety reasons, explained Martin. There are also emergency responders, an air boss, and Transport Canada officials on-site at the airport during the free air show.
“None of these conditions are present when Super Dave does his routines,” Martin said.
Jesse Smith, owner and president of Upper Valley Aviation Ltd., sent a letter to city officials over the weekend stating that he and other airport businesses are considering moving because of the situation at the airport now.
He disputes the suggestion that it’s only 12 minutes of practising, saying the noise can persist all day, but Mathieson stressed that it’s only 12 to 15 minutes because that is the limit of the fuel tank.
The tenants say their concerns are falling on deaf ears, and the City of Chilliwack – which owns the airport property – is failing to support them.
“Who does the City really support? Super Dave has been here for a very short period of time and it seems that he is more important than anyone else, and he is being treated by the City and Magnum Management as such,” says Smith in his emailed letter to Chilliwack city staff and council.
Transport Canada officials have not responded to any Progress questions about Super Dave’s special permits for practising aerobatics, or any safety violation investigations, citing privacy concerns.
“We cannot comment on specific investigations in accordance with Canada’s information protection laws,” said Transport Canada spokesperson Sara Johnston.
Super Dave was issued a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada for 2015, the special permit that allows him to practise the aerobatics below 2000 feet. But in a letter dated April 8, from Transport Canada, Mathieson was told he could not practise at the airport, in the vicinity of “noise sensitive areas,” such as residential or livestock areas, etc.
“Please be advised that use of your SFOC at Chilliwack airport for aerobatics below 2000 feet AGL is inappropriate and will be considered a violation” under the new certificate.
Mathieson has said his life savings and career are now at stake, after he moved his business here three years ago, and is hoping to be allowed to resume his aerobatics over the airport.