Monday, March 30, 2009

Economic Development - But at What Cost?

"The OMCIAA operates the Ottawa International Airport without government subsidies under a 60-year lease transfer agreement with Transport Canada. The OMCIAA’s mandate is to manage, operate and develop airport facilities and lands in support of the economic growth of the National Capital Region". (Their Website ... March 30, 2009)

There is no concern for communities in or around the airport, there is no concern for climate change and acting in an environmentally conscious manner, there is also no concern for transparency or accountabilty - as this private company is not subject to the Access to Information Act. This organization's sole concern is to make money. Transport Canada has quite simply dropped the ball entirely on this lease transfer agreement.

To borrow from Jeff Jarvis: The Ottawa International Airport's Noise Complaints Process Sucks!

This really sucks ... So basically I have been having issues with aircraft noise in and around my community. The airport operates 24*7 ... which will come as news to many citizens of Ottawa. Montreal and Toronto have imposed curfews ... Ottawa hasn't. The noise complaints process, as established by the Ottawa International Airport, is for concerned citizens to call and make a noise complaint. There is also supposed to be a Noise Complaint Committee. Simple enough, right ... Well, I have followed the process only to learn that it SUCKS in every way shape and form. I've seen greater transparency in so-called developing countries.
  1. Even though the City of Ottawa has a noise by-law it defers all aircraft noise complaints to the federal government. The federal government, in its wisdom, created the OMCIAA "Aiport Authority" (a private company) to oversee and manage air travel in and out of Ottawa ... including dealing with noise. So, I can't play music after 11pm but I can fly planes around the city at all hours of the day and night.
  2. Complaints to the Ottawa Airport Authority are a waste of time ... you are sent a glorified apology letter along the lines of we own the infrastructure and have no control over where aircraft fly and the airport is an important money maker for the community. The noise complaint process accomplishes nothing.
  3. There is supposed to be a Noise Complaints Committee ... there isn't ... which completely contradicts what Airport Authority speaks to in its on-line publications.
  4. The information on the Airport Authority's site is factually incorrect, and noise complaint statistics date back to 2005.
  5. The Ottawa Airport Authority is a private company whose corporate information is not subject to access to information requests.

I could not have come up with a more backward, less transparent, ridiculous process if I set aside a month and tried to devise one. It's beyond stupid.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Clueless Manifesto: Why the Ottawa International Airport Needs a Curfew and More

I had the real pleasure yesterday to speak with the VP of Communications for the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority (OMCIAA) “Airport Authority”. Our conversation was about as satisfying as the feeling one would get if they turned their car on, opened the windows, and sat in their car for about an hour … all the while with the garage door shut.

First, however, a bit of context: I have now made 15 noise related complaints with the Airport Authority about aircraft noise in my community, at all hours of the day or night. This is because the Ottawa International Airport is allowed to operate without a time curfew, unlike the cities of Toronto and Montreal. The process is quite simple: I search for the number to call on the Airport Authority’s website; I call and make a complaint; and they send me a letter telling me how important the airport is to the community. To pull directly from the Airport Authority’s website, the “… OMCIAA listens to every noise inquiry and investigates to determine the cause”. Yes, that is true. However, they don’t do anything about it and this makes the process worse than useless.

My phone conversation yesterday with the Airport Authority went something like this … (Question) “what can be done about the 15 noise related complaints I have made with the Airport Authority” … (Response) “we should be so lucky to have an airport in Ottawa”. (Question) “…what about my most recent complaint?” (Response) “… that was a Transport Canada aircraft and we only deal with commercial flights”. (Question) “…do you realize that I live outside of the Airport Operations Influence Zone”. (Response) “… well that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be influenced by aircraft noise”. (Question) “…if you aren’t responsible for aircraft noise involving non-commercial aircraft, who is?” (Response) “I don’t know”. As God is my witness, that was the gist of our conversation.

Talking to the Ottawa International Airport is kind of like communicating with a kiosk. However, unlike most kiosks that one would interact with, this kiosk provides neither helpful information nor service. The Airport Authority’s kiosk has basically three scripts: 1) you have reached the Ottawa International Airport’s noise complaints number; 2) the aircraft you complained about was flying at 2300 feet; 3) you should be so lucky to have an airport. In a nutshell, this is the process and result of a recent noise complaint call. I suggest adding three other scripts: A) don’t bother calling this number because it’s a complete waste of your time; B) I am only responsible for infrastructure and cannot do anything about noise complaints other than to frustrate you further; and C) I am not responsible for noise complaints.

There is also the much talked about Airport Operations Influence Zone (AOIZ). It was designed with the following in mind …

The Ottawa International Airport has taken noise abatement one step further. In partnership with the municipal and provincial governments and other community stakeholders, we have created the AOIZ. This line is a composite of the 30 (Noise Exposure Forecast) NEF and 30 (Noise Exposure Projection) NEP noise contours, and takes into account visible features such as roads and watercourses. The zone was established to restrict noise-sensitive development such as residential housing, schools, and libraries, all of which are easily disturbed by noise. (Translation: these apply development restrictions to protect lands uses and activities from noise impacts emanating from the aircraft and airport operations and to conversely protect airport operations from potential complaints arising from the development of residential and noise sensitive uses too close to the airport).

The AOIZ is about as useful as the Airport Authority’s noise complaints process. In monetary terms, it’s worth about half a wooden nickel. It simply doesn’t work as intended. Interestingly, Transport Canada has produced guidelines to aid builders in terms of the materials/construction methods to be applied re: houses in and around airports. The problem with these guidelines is that no builder actually uses them - due to cost factors and because they’re only guidelines. It’s like an episode of Dumb and Dumber.

A relatively common invention amongst many leading governments is the One-Stop Shop. It is designed to make life easier for citizens by providing them with a One-Stop shop for information, services, etc. (e.g. Service Canada). This concept even extends to information and/or services of an inter-jurisdictional nature (for example, BizPal).

When it comes to aircraft noise imagine the same One-Stop shop but designed with completely the opposite objective in mind. Examples:

If you call the Airport Authority’s noise complaints line, presumably the place you go to call about noise complaints involving aircraft, you are basically told that … we are responsible for infrastructure, Nav Canada is responsible for routing aircraft, once in the air the pilots more or less do as they please (within guidelines), and we are a private company and not subject to the Access to Information Act.
If you call the City of Ottawa re: their noise by-law, you are told that this doesn’t apply to aircraft and “we can’t help you”.
If you call Transport Canada, formerly responsible for airports in this country, well that’s a matter for the Airport Authority.
If the matter involves small aircraft, then that could be the flight school, or someone else’s responsibility.
If it involves DND, or police, or medivac, then that’s somebody else altogether.

So, it’s not the responsibility of the Airport Authority, it’s not the responsibility of Transport Canada, it’s not the responsibility of the City, it’s not the responsibility of Nav Canada, or Defense, the OPP, or Medivac, or the flight schools … In short, no one is responsible/accountable for aircraft noise. So when it comes to the highway over our heads, it’s not all that different than the World Wide Web … it’s messy and it’s only going to get messier. However, unlike the Web and the hope of the Semantic Web, aircraft noise has no fix.

To borrow from David Weinberger, author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, air travel in Ottawa has grown up without a plan. It is so very ill equipped to deal with growing communities and concerns of climate change. It’s the Clueless Manifesto. At the end of the day, the City of Ottawa (no one else) has given blanket permission to one of the world’s largest polluters to operate in its city without restriction 24/7, 365 days a year. Planting 100,000 trees isn’t going to fix it.

I have come to realize that no one is responsible or accountable for the situation involving aircraft noise in the city and, as a result, no one will do anything about it. It's a horizontal problem being addressed in a siloed fashion. With air travel likely to increase over time, this chaos will only get worse. No community will be safe within 15km of the airport. It’s a fine mess!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A letter to the Mayor of Ottawa,

Mr. Mayor,

I am writing to let you know that I am seriously considering leaving Ottawa after all these years and moving to Toronto. There is only one reason I am considering moving and that is because the City of Ottawa, unlike the cities of Toronto and Montreal, has not imposed an aircraft curfew. In Ottawa aircraft are permitted to fly 24/7, 365 days a year. And whereas the city has imposed a noise by-law (Noise By-law No. 2004-253) which prohibits noise disturbances between the hours of 11pm and 7am (with extended hours on weekends), the city permits aircraft of all sizes to the fly around the city without restriction. With respect, Mr. Mayor, this is absurd. The noise from this lack of curfew particularly impacts my house and my community, and the noise has steadily increased over the past year.

The Ottawa International Airport Authority (“Airport Authority”) will argue that other cities in Canada operate without a curfew. However, none of these other cities are in any way like Ottawa. In Vancouver, for instance, planes fly in and out over water. In Winnipeg, aircraft fly in and out over treed areas around the airport. I know this because I am a regular traveler with the airlines. I have achieved Super Elite status with Air Canada in each of the past four years. Notably, I have never, in all my years of traveling, had to fly in or out of Ottawa between the hours of midnight and 6am.

To make matters worse, the Airport Authority has established the most ill-conceived noise complaints process imaginable. For example, I have called to complain about aircraft noise on 15 different occasions with absolutely no results. The process is quite simple: I search for the number to call on the Airport Authority’s website; I call and make a complaint; and they send me a letter telling me how important the airport is to the community. It’s a complete waste of my time and insulting. I am not calling and writing the Airport Authority to complain about aircraft noise as a cathartic release, but rather to have the noise situation addressed.

When I enquired recently regarding the number of noise complaints the Airport Authority had received in the past four years (the statistics on their website are from 2005), how many fines had been issued by Transport Canada for violations of noise abatement procedures (aircraft are regularly in violation of Transport Canada’s requirements with respect to my community), etc., I was informed that as a “private company” the Airport Authority was not subject to the Access to Information Act, and that it was under no obligation to share “corporate information” with people like me (citizens of Ottawa). With respect, Mr. Mayor, I have seen more transparency from the governments of some of the so-called “third world” countries that I have worked with recently.

The Airport Authority also claims both on its website and in its on-line publications that it has established a Noise Management Committee to oversee the noise complaints process. Please know that this is a complete fabrication. There is currently no Noise Management Committee – it doesn’t exist, and hasn’t for some time. Even if it may have been in existence at some point in the past, it never had citizen representation. From the perspective of transparency and accountability, this is shameful.

Finally, the Ontario provincial government has recently published its Green Act. In so doing the government has staked a leadership position with respect to climate change. According to the Green Energy Act website – “We need the Ontario Green Energy Act … to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions …” It is a laudable objective and the government should be applauded for their actions. Unfortunately, by allowing aircraft (one of the biggest polluters on the planet) to fly 24/7, 365 days a year, the City of Ottawa’s actions are anti-Green. As a citizen and concerned parent I would like to do my part for the environment by limiting HVAC use whenever possible. Unfortunately, due to aircraft noise at all hours of the day and night, I cannot keep my windows open and must operate my HVAC system unnecessarily and at additional cost.

To summarize, unlike the cities of Montreal and Toronto (where the airports are surrounded by city neighborhoods, like Ottawa), the City of Ottawa has not imposed an aircraft curfew - aircraft are permitted to operate 24/7, 365 days a year. The City has a noise by-law but it does not apply to aircraft. The noise complaints process established by the Airport Authority (a private company) is worthy of contempt and the claim of a Noise Management Committee to oversee the noise complaints process is a lie. Finally, the Ontario government has made an official commitment to “green” yet the City of Ottawa permits one of the world’s largest polluters to operate 24/7, 365 days a year.

Mr. Mayor, I work hard juggling a demanding work and travel schedule with being a husband and father. I have better things to do with my time than to call the Airport Authority to make noise complaints or, quite frankly, to take the time to write this letter. All I want is to be able to enjoy peace and quiet to the same level and extent as other citizens of Ottawa.

As the Mayor of the City of Ottawa I urge you to act. Two non-elected representatives of the City of Ottawa sit on the Airport Authority’s Board yet they have done nothing to stop the current situation. The Airport Authority should not be permitted to operate without a curfew for the reasons mentioned above. Furthermore, the Airport Authority’s noise complaints process needs to be completely overhauled. Finally, the entire process needs to be cleaned up, and transparency and accountability restored.

The thoughts of a concerned citizen

P.S. What has been the response to my letter writing ... an increased level of aircraft traffic in my community. Now I know what it feels like to come up against the un-checked power of a pseudo-government organization ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Time to Impose a Curfew at Ottawa International Airport

The Ottawa International Airport does not have a curfew. What this means is that aircraft are permitted to fly 24/7. Montreal has a curfew! Toronto has a curfew! Why doesn't Ottawa?

The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority (OMCIAA) argues that it "... has been able to effectively manage noise in the absence of a curfew ...". This statement is both self-serving and false.

The noise complaint process established by the OMCIAA is quite frankly a joke. For example, there is supposed to be a Noise Management Committee, however, it does not exist. Only after receiving multiple complaints is the OMCIAA now considering "... recontructing the Noise Management Committee ... however no members have been determined as yet" (OMCIAA letter dated February 3, 2009).

When aircraft are found in violation of Transport Canada's own regulations, below is the type of satisfaction you will receive - "When we spoke, I mentioned to you that all aircraft movements must follow prescribed noise abatement procedures per Transport Canada regulations. Ultimately, however, the final flight path can be modified by the pilot or by Nav Canada depending on a variety of factors ... Safety is always the primary factor when these decisions are made". In other words, there is no satisfaction. If in doubt, throw a security blanket over the problem. The complaints process does not work! How many times does a citizen have to complain about noise before action is taken!

The City has a noise by-law however it defers all responsibility for aircraft noise to the federal government through the OMCIAA. Call 311 for example and they'll tell you that it's not their responsibility. In other words, I can't play loud music after 11pm but I can fly planes at all hours of the day or night - that's just stupid! So if it's not the City's responsibility, and the OMCIAA's noise complaint process is simply laughable, then it leaves citizens no choice but to come together and force a change. Oh, and by the way, the OMCIAA is not responsible for noise complaints involving small aircraft. Who is?

By the way, I am a regular traveller with the airlines. I have achieved Super Elite status with Air Canada four years in a row. I travel primarily for work and my travel destinations include - other cities in Canada, the US, South America, Europe, and Africa. I have never once had to leave from/return to the Ottawa International Airport between midnight and 6:30am. There is no need for 24-hour travel.

For those interested, I do not live near the airport. I live outside of Manotick and outside of the Annoying Ottawa Influence Zone (AOIZ). Note: Despite having an Airport Operations Influence Zone (AOIZ), the Ottawa Airport continues to violate (with regularity) both the concept behind establishing the AOIZ and its spirit by flying aircraft anywhere it wants, at any time of the day or night.

To complain about airport noise please call the airport at: 613.248.2023. This is the OMCIAA's 24-hour noise complaints reporting service. Your complaints are logged and a list is kept. In addition to logging a complaint with the airport, call your local and federal politicians who sit on the Authority's board. Notably, it was only after "... a siginificant number of noise-related complaints" that Toronto and Montreal imposed a curfew.

If you would like to contact me, I can be reached via email at Also, follow me on Twitter at OttawaAirport.