The roar of Super Dave Mathieson’s aerobatic aircraft has been grounded over noise complaints.
The full-time air show pilot, who made Chilliwack his home base a few years ago, received notification from Transport Canada earlier this month that he could no longer perform the aerobatics under 2000 feet at Chilliwack Airport, citing proximity to “noise sensitive or livestock” areas.
“I am now stopped in my tracks,” Mathieson said. “As an air show pilot, if I can’t do these manoeuvres that take me almost to the surface, I can’t prepare for the air shows.”
The pilot said he was told by federal officials that the complaints were the reason for the decision.
He characterized the effort to ground him as a “witch hunt” and said the complaints started when he moved here and started practising the aerobatics. He might have to move.
The decision will also likely cost him a spot on the Great Pacific Media show Air Show on Discovery, which was gearing up to shoot a brand-new season of documentary episodes.
“They just took everything away from me,” Mathieson said. “Now there’s nothing to film.”
Super Dave has to regularly practise the dangerous aerobatic manoeuvres for safety reasons, said crew chief Michelle Nieforth, who is also the Super Dave team safety observer, and Mathieson’s partner.
“The whole town loves it,” she said about Super Dave’s presence in town. Kids enjoy being able to watch him fly, or get an autograph. They’ve given out thousands of hats, and visited schools.
The practice runs are just 12 minutes twice a day, before he heads out to various North American air shows for the summer season. Super Dave is a regular air show featured performer at the free Chilliwack Flight Fest and many others, and now has to use other communities to practise his stunts over airport runways.
Some of the moves have him zooming toward the ground in his tiny two-seater, only to pull the nose up at the last minute away from the surface. It’s all about that critical split-second timing that must be continually choreographed and rehearsed to get the cues timed absolutely perfectly.
Team Super Dave had to get permission from the land owner, which is the Chilliwack Airport and Mathieson was again 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.
Everything was a go — or so they thought.
In a letter dated April 8, from the Civil Aviation department of Transport Canada, a federal official reminded Mathieson of his “responsibility” to ensure compliance with the conditions of the SFOC permit.
“We would like to take this opportunity to remind you that Chilliwack Airport (CYCW) does not support the use of this SFOC as per the following standard condition:
c) the site of operation is not located in the vicinity of noise sensitive areas, such as residential areas, 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.
Those assertions did not sit well with Mathieson, nor an airport official.
The wording of the letter from Transport Canada is “ambiguous,” said Garry Atkins, manager of the Chilliwack Airport.
Chilliwack Airport does in fact support the Super Dave Team since they are a sponsor this year, with the name ‘Chilliwack Airport’ clearly printed on the side of Mathieson’s plane.
The letter implies that the airport does not support the use of the SFOC permit for aerobatics at the Chilliwack Airport, but it definitely has.
Ownership of the managing company at the airport decided some time ago to support Super Dave by sponsoring his aircraft, Atkins added, and that is why it is “emblazoned” on the side of the plane right now.
Federal officials had to deal with the noise complaints, and this was the upshot.
“We wish we had been invited to be a part of those discussions, but we weren’t,” said Atkins.
“We fully understand the needs of people to have quiet, peaceful enjoyment of their lands. On the other hand we have to balance the fact that Mathieson needs to practise at an airport. It’s hard to balance.”
This decision will likely have some economic impact, since the curtailed documentary filming used to bring crews from Great Pacific to Chilliwack, who spent money locally in hotels and restaurants. When Great Pacific shot Highway Through Hell in Hope, they pumped more than $6 million into the local economy in recent years.
“I don’t see that occurring anymore in Chilliwack,” said Atkins. “This could affect the ongoing expansion of the airport, but everything does. Generally speaking, we have a wonderful airport with great potential. We want to keep it as such and continue to see it grow.”
Mathieson said he does not know if the decision can be reversed. He moved his family and his business here more than three years ago, and invested at least a million dollars over the past decade.
All of Super Dave’s special flight operating certificates from Transportation Canada and insurance papers were up to date, said officials, but a handful of complaint calls have come in nonetheless.
“That’s why I really need some positive letters,” he said.
Mathieson said he knows there’s actually a huge amount of support out there for him, more than those opposed, and is asking now for letters to confirm this, sent to: email@example.com.
Transport Canada officials were unable to respond to requests for comment before deadline.
Mathieson flies one of the most advanced aerobatic aircraft made anywhere, called an MX-2. It’s designed for plus-or-minus 16Gs, which refers to G-force, or the impact of acceleration or gravity. The MX-2 has a roll rate of 500 degrees per second, powered by a 380-horsepower motor. That gives the stunt plane a top speed of 300 miles per hour, and he flies within a foot or two of the ground in some moves.
“We have to time that down to the second.
“They have just made a difficult job, which is extremely dangerous, impossible. It’s unsafe to practise this high in the sky.
“I need to be over an airport with runways — for safety. Otherwise if the engine quits, I’m going to land in the trees.”