Saturday, December 14, 2013

As Pretty As An Airport

Douglas Adams said many sage things. Way back in school I was asked to write a term paper on the Brandt Report, and I summarized my criticism with Douglas Adams' observation on the oddity of proposing movement of small green pieces paper as solutions to the problems of people being miserable, given that it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy in the first place. But when, in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Adams asserts, "It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'As pretty as an airport'," it becomes clear that he does not understand the true beauty of an airport.

An airport is soothing when it appears along my route, its inviting stretch of flat unobstructed pavement serving as a marker that I am on course, a milestone in my journey and a source of refuge if anything should go wrong. An airport is pretty when it comes into sight right ahead during descent, and I am cleared to the circuit, especially if I need to pee. An airport is a stunningly beautiful sight, dark and lashed with pounding rain, blowing snow or almost obscured in fog, when it appears at minima on an IFR approach. No one who has ever flown any distance with peripheral vision repeatedly drawing her eyes to needles flickering at the E on the fuel gauges, or the red line on the oil pressure, or illuminated red caution lights on the glare panel can fail to appreciate the all-surpassing glory of an airport.

The closure of an airport is the loss of a refuge, and in the case of Edmonton City Centre, which finally closed on 30 November of this year, it's the loss of a great place to stay when there's no emergency either. It really was in the centre of the city, within walking distance--with luggage--to hotels, restaurants and malls. It's been under threat of closure for years. They shut down runway 16/34 years ago, meaning that when the afternoon winds picked up there was almost always an exciting crosswind challenge getting in there. YXD has dodged the axe so many times that I haven't flight planned into it for a few years without double-checking that they were still open, and still had fuel available. Lately that caution has been warranted. A month or so ago the FBO sold their oxygen equipment, so we had to go to Edmonton International for an O2 fill. The last time I was there, less than a month before it closed, I had to track down airport security to get off the airport. It had been designed around 24-hour FBOs and when the last one cut its hours, there were no pedestrian gates to let me out after midnight.

In 1926 the Edmonton City Council approved a $400 outlay to pack the soil and cut a few trees to turn the Hagmann Farm into Jimmy Bell's Air Harbour. It became Canada's first licensed airfield and was later named Blatchford Field, after the mayor who approved it. It has also been known as #2 Air Observer School, RCAF Western Air Command, Industrial Airport, and Municipal Airport. I've been a passenger on a B737 that landed at Edmonton International, made a short hop to the Muni, and then continued north to Grande Prairie and Fort Nelson.

This site used to discuss the decision to close the airport but now that it's a done deal, it's just a page about the development process, mentioning the airport only as history of the site. I suppose we'll be landing at the International more often. Their ATC are great, handling our little aircraft without making us feel like we're second class, and the FBO we used provided everything we needed, plus they had an Estonian consulate on site, because you never know when you're going to need one of those. Once you leave the airport you're in a little bubble of hotels, way the hell out of town, and the other remaining airports in the area are no better. You can't even get a pizza delivered to Villeneuve.

CYXD, I'll miss you.

Edit: I looked it up on the NavCanada weather site.


CYXD -> Invalid or unknown aerodrome ID

Erased from existence.


Jason said...

Really interesting read, thanks for sharing

grant said...

Having grown up near YXD, spending countless hours on the observation deck watching C-46s, DC3s, Viscounts, and Super Connies... it's a sad day indeed.

I eventually learned to fly and start my career in aviaion at YXD. It was a real highlight a few years later to fly in briefly, and out again, in a DC9.

RIP Edmonton aviation history.

david said...

I agree with everything you wrote -- there's nothing as beautiful as the numbers popping out of the fog or rain on an instrument approach -- but when the general public says "airport," they don't mean the landing surface or the small-city-sized infrastructure that supports the larger ones; they mean the inside of the public passenger terminal.

I got in a long and fruitless debate on Wikipedia 5-7 years ago about editors adding airports to categories like "Buildings in X-ville." Airports contain buildings, but they're *not* buildings themselves, any more than neighbourhoods and towns are.

DataPilot said...

While commuting to work in the foggy darkness this morning, I drove past the approach lighting to Runway 16R at the Eugene, Oregon airport. The colorful lights shone eerily beautiful through the fog, and all I could think of is how lucky I am to get to drive past our pretty airport every day. I love the lights so much that I made "Runway Lights" my avatar.

Old airport buffs might enjoy browsing through Paul Freeman's Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields website. It's too bad that only US airfields are listed, but the site is a fascinating read nonetheless. I learned that 3 small airports that used to be located in my town and were lost over time.

I'm sorry for the loss of CYXD. I hope its history is recorded somewhere. It would be a shame to be forgotten.

nec Timide said...

I'm sure it will live on in OurAirports.Com (Shout out to David). Which is a nice place to spend time when flying isn't in the cards. Throw a virtual dart at the map of the world and scroll around looking at abandoned and little-know aerodromes that people have documented for now and posterity.

majroj said...

As "aerodromes" little and medium are closed, concentration of all types aircraft into increasingly busy airspace is a result. Sometimes I'm glad I'm a Groundling.

Lived every other 24 hrs ON the flight line of my active duty air force base for three years, and there was always something interesting, puzzling, rarely scary, and occasionally beautiful to see, hear and (since we were CLOSE), feel.

A Squared said...

Hmmmm, I was just revising a set of Jepps the day before yesterday and noticed that I was removing all the City Centre plates. I wondered what that was about. now I know.