Edmonton’s Airport Debate

Apparently Edmonton has a municipal airport a stone’s throw away from the centre of town. It’s called Edmonton City Centre Airport (also known as Blatchford Field), and has been around in some form or another since 1929. Google Maps says it’s 4.4 km from the airport to Edmonton’s City Hall, or seven minutes of driving time.

I gather that the airport is used for regional flights and private air travel. It also gets annually converted into a race track for the Edmonton Indy. Larger aircraft and international flights come through the Edmonton International Airport, which is 26 km southwest of the city centre.

According to the CBC, there’s been a long debate about the airport’s future:

Some of the people who have made submissions to the public hearing want the downtown airport closed and the land developed into a transit-oriented community with housing for thousands of people, along with commercial and retail space.

Other presenters have told city councillors the airport must stay open because it is vital for the business community. They describe it as a hub to the north and argue that it is critical for medevac flights. About 4,000 medevac flights a year go through the facility.

I learned about this whole business from Mack’s site. He’s started NotMyAirport.ca (here’s the associated Facebook group), which argues for replacing the airport with “a new transit-oriented, green community”, as well as an expansion of Edmoton’s NAIT campus. Removal of the airport would also apparently change building height limitations in the city, which is a good thing. A dense city, after all, is a healthy city.

Mack launched his site in response to SaveOurAirport.ca, which argues that the airport “plays a vital role in making Edmonton one of Canada’s leading health centres, as a hub for air ambulance and other essential health services for all of Alberta, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.” This claim is disputed by the CEO of Edmonton Airports in the aforementioned CBC article, who says “”what the City Centre Airport offers is a tremendous amount of convenience for corporate travellers and those people who live in the downtown area and have private aircraft.”

SaveOurAirport.ca is run by the Alberta Enterprise Group. Looking at their board members, they seem to be mostly local business owners.

Are you an Edmontonian? What do you think of this debate?


  1. I am the city’s biggest proponent of mass transit (ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much). So I think a transit-oriented community would be great. However, transit service city-wide is terrible at the moment. This is something that needs to be dealt with before we start building communities to be services by said transit.

    Secondly, high-density housing can be dangerous if it’s not matched with mid-to-high income tenants. Building this community literally across the street (Yellowhead) from Edmonton’s biggest train yard doesn’t seem like it would facilitate that goal.

    I don’t personally use the municipal airport (although my significant other, as a small-plane pilot does), and so I am not opposed to closing the airport. But that’s only if the money would NOT detract from LRT/transit expansion funds, and if there was a more sustainable development proposed than high-density residential in a low-propoerty-value area.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I know little about Edmonton’s urban planning, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume that you can’t middle to high income housing near a train yard. Vancouver is a testament to, as one Calgarian put it, “nice things next to junky things”. Just look at Gastown.

  2. Paul: the only way we’re going to realize the LRT Network Plan and expand service throughout the city is by creating pockets of high density along the way.

    I don’t believe that closing ECCA would detract at all from LRT expansion funding. There is no funding for transit that is contingent on the ECCA’s continued existence nor its eventual closure.

  3. There are plenty of better places to redevelop that wont harm the edmonton commuter air traffic. Many people I know make use of it all the time from downtown.
    A trip to Calgary from downtown via the Muni, (including commute to the airport)is noticeably shorter than via the international, where it takes almost as long as it takes to drive to Calgary.
    The Edmonton Airport Authority has been trying to make the muni fail for the last decade or so. Of course its losing money, they wanted to make that happen.
    I liked it when flights within canada landed me downtown instead of in the middle of nowhere.
    Not to mention the first time I ever flew a plane, it was from the muni via their “discovery flight” service.
    Most large cities have two airports, one closer to downtown for commuters and one elsewhere for international flights.
    I will laugh when the international airport reaches capacity and has to build more runways or terminals, after they destroyed an easy way to increase capacity when required.
    We need to look to the future and be ready for it, and EIA needs to use their asset instead of trying to kill it.

    1. Yeah ok there are other places to develop we all know that, but a very small percentage of edmontonians use the airport! I know I haven’t used it, I’ve always used the International. By bulldozing tarmac (not existing houses) we have this vast swath of land in which we can start over from scratch and redevelop a greener, more sustainable Edmonton that builds up and not out. Yeah sure other cities have airports NEAR their downtown, NOT in their downtown. Our airport deters and prevents skyscraper construction and this leads to a less sustainable city. So what is your point with the EIA reaching capacity? Do you think that the ECCA will actually mitigate this risk, there is no room for the ECCA to expand it is in the middle of the city if you haven’t noticed!

  4. That airport is insane! I lived for two years underneath the flight path near the landing strip and I swear I had to duck once in awhile when a plane was landing. (mind you, at 6’6″ maybe it’s my fault.)

    Plus the noise itself is outrageous.

    1. Chris,

      You know where you find sympathy? in the dictionary between……

      Look, I lived in Grand Trunk too…Dumbie…it is at the end of a runway. Live with it. It was there 80 or so years before you. I hate dumb shits who buy a house near any ‘industrial’ activity then bitch about the noise. Get real JERKoff!!!

  5. I have no idea how the airport is for Edmonton, but I certainly appreciated it the one time I flew in from Vancouver and landed so close to downtown. Even Saskatoon’s airport is further away (though still pretty close, about 6 km), and that’s a considerably smaller city.

    For reference, Edmonton International is about 30 km away, while Vancouver International is about 14 km from its downtown. O’Hare is about 27 km and Midway about 15 km from Chicago — and Denver’s airport is almost 40 km away from its downtown.

    1. Thanks for that. Another data point is that Toronto’s Pearson Airport is 27 km away.

      Of course, it’s only a question of distance. Traffic makes a huge difference. I always find that it takes a particularly long time, for example, to get into downtown Toronto from the airport.

      I meant to add that, based on the Wikipedia entry for the airport, there are no longer inter-provincial flights from the Edmonton City Centre Airport.

  6. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned so far is the financial benefit Edmonton City would receive from the additional property taxes that could be collected by removing the municipal airport.

    Given the recent tax increases and last year’s overly enthusiastic property assessment hikes, opening up new property in the heart of the city would – at least in theory – somewhat lessen the tax burden for Edmonton homeowners.

  7. There are a lot of misconceptions about the City Centre Airport. People believe that housing on the airport lands would benefit the city. The public needs to be reminded that if the City of Edmonton continues to operate on the assumption that business wants to be in Edmonton, they are wrong. Back in the 1970’s many of the major oil companies were based in Edmonton. Where are they now and how is Calgary doing compared to Edmonton?
    People say that they never use the airport. Anybody that works for a company that uses the airport; does business with companies located at the airport or has clients in Northern Alberta that fly into the airport; uses the facility. If your employer is not successful, and cannot attract business to their firm, away goes your job as well. If it is more convenient for these businesses to relocate out to Nisku or to Calgary, so goes your job there along with any revenue the business generates for the City of Edmonton. That high density housing will be very convenient for people whose job is located in Nisku.
    A study conducted in 2005 indicated that the City Centre Airport is responsible for over 900 direct jobs and generates over $650 million of economic activity for Edmonton. Just imagine what could be accomplished if it was properly operated and not being choked by the airport authority. In 2008 there were 82,454 aircraft movements at this airport. Many more flights could be handled if not restricted by the airport authority.
    Noise is not a viable argument. Aircraft today are quiet compared to years ago. Noise abatement policies can be put into place. Anyone (including myself) whom lives in the area will attest that the CN rail yards create as much if not more noise than the airport.
    So before you say “I never use the airport”, think again. Does the company that generates your pay cheque do business with others that benefit from the airport? Will your company consider relocating to Leduc county sometime in the future if the airport is closed? How will the city benefit if they are not Open for Business?
    I suggest that people visit http://www.aviationedmonton.ca to get some facts. They have a video presentation on that website that everyone should watch before taking sides.

  8. Some downtown buildings are limited to 40 floors! The city is sprawling like crazy. When the city expands, then additional infrastructure needs to be created which costs, and makes public transit worse. The cost of housing and renting in the city is already expensive, which won’t be improved by increasing the size of the city. There is also problems with making yellowhead a free flow highway (which it really should be…) because of the airport. The airport property could house up to 37,000 people. Not to mention the additional people that could be housed downtown if the building could be made larger. The cost benefits to the city are significant: more downtown income (because of larger buildings/more buildings, and more property tax); and less development towards making the city larger (which involves more roads, electrical, sewer, services, etc).

    And at what cost is the closure? Well arguing that jobs and economic activity will be lost, is true. However considering that this activity will be transferred to the international airport (?), then the only loss would be from lack of convenience for people (and loss of activity because of that).

    I say close it. So Edmonton can start to look and act like a big city.

  9. The city airport brings in much outside money into the cities economy. Most citizens are unaware of this.
    Demolishing it would not add a significant percentage of land overall to the city. There already exists many developable lots in the area but it is money that is needed to build on them. Driving the business the airport brings in away further reduces the money supply. Without the extra money the airport brings in it will become even less likely that higher buildings will be built. There is land available now and the airport can easily accommodate much higher buildings than there are now.
    It is a major misconception that the the airport is limiting the downtown building height. There is only one building that ever reached the current limit. Even higher buildings could be built downtown seeing as they are not in the approach path to 34. Without the business and associated money supply the airport brings the improved downtown will never happen.
    All other cities mentioned in this blog have closer in regional airports than Edmonton international. Even Denver has a general aviation airport that wasn’t mentioned and it has a huge amount of business without any scheduled airlines going there.

  10. “It is a major misconception that the the airport is limiting the downtown building height”

    To name a few: The Epcor tower, the AMA building, residential towers in railtown, and the Royal Alex expansion, have been restricted by the height limitation. There have also been several projects dropped because of the restrictions and design compromises.

    The city of edmonton has done serious research in the the economic impact of closing the airport (from both sides of the argument). So I hope that all of the people petitioning against the closure aren’t ignorant to all the facts.

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