COVID-19’s community impact:  Flying through the pandemic at Oshawa airport

Oshawa airport Manager, Stephan Wilcox (left) and James Bolitho (right) stand in front of jet at the Oshawa Executive Airport, on the Enterprise Airline lot. Photo credit: Andrea Eymann

Due to COVID-19, some businesses in Ontario had to close their doors to the public for several weeks – but the Oshawa Executive Airport was still allowed to keep flying.

Still, during the months between April and June, there was little flying taking place, quieting the skies.

Airport Manager Stephan Wilcox said people living near the airport got used to the quiet but by July there was a surge of planes travelling in the sky.

The Oshawa Executive Airport is the seventh busiest airport in all of Canada. In 2015, they had 60,000 aircraft movements and in five years they have grown to have 90,000 movements, said Wilcox.

The airport is owned by the City of Oshawa, but Total Aviation operates and manages the airport. Transport Canada sets all the rules they have to follow and Nav Canada operates the control tower and manages all arrivals and departures from the Oshawa Executive Airport, said Wilcox.

The airport costs the city about $400,000 a year to operate, Wilcox said, but the airport generates $1.6 million in property tax from the 18 different businesses at the airport.

OSHAWA ONT. 10/01/2020 - one of the small planes at the Oshawa Executive Airport on the Enterprise Airlines lot.
A small plane at the Oshawa Executive Airport on the Enterprise Airlines lot. Photo credit: Andrea Eymann

Wilcox said, “the airport is completely self-funded through the property tax and does not have a burden on the citizens of Durham Region.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the airport had to reduce its employees’ hours, but they were still capable of paying them full-time hours, said Wilcox. However, flight schools were not allowed to operate, he said. Since July 1, the airport has had a full working staff working full-time hours, Wilcox said.

As of Oct. 1, no employees at the airport have tested positive for COVID-19 but some people had to take sick leave for having COVID-19 like symptoms, said Wilcox, who has been in the aviation industry for 45 years.

Closely monitoring the COVID-19 case numbers in Durham Region, they have been preparing for a second wave to hit. Airport employees continue to social distance and wear face masks when it is not possible to socially distance.

Wilcox said, “we have a very robust risk management process,” adding they have been temperature testing and screening to make air travel safe.

OSHAWA ONT. 10/01/2020 - A small plane driving along the runway at the Oshawa Executive Airport, getting ready to take off into the sky.
A small plane on the runway at the Oshawa Executive Airport, getting ready to take off. Photo credit: Andrea Eymann

Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, Wilcox does not know what operations at the Oshawa Executive Airport will look like in the next year. But the airport hopes to update its business plan and reduce its noise and traffic management plan.

Wilcox said some people have complained about the noise the airplanes produced, pushing the airport to work at reducing its noise pollution.

“It’s up in the air… I don’t think any of us know what it’s going to be like next year,” said Wilcox.