WATERVILLE - David Williamson doesnât want to leave the Valley or the local flying community, but with the closure of the Waterville airport on the horizon, he needs a space to operate his business.
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Atlantic School of Skydiving owner David Williamson stands with one of his Cessna 182s. Williamson had been planning an expansion at the Waterville airport for some time but this is no longer possible with the upcoming closure of the facility.
The Atlantic School of Skydiving owner is moving his operation to South Maitland, Hants County. Williamson and Andrew Robertson have purchased about 68 acres of land, where they are developing a 2,800-foot grass airstrip, a 30-acre drop zone, a hangar for the jump schoolâs two Cessna 182s and room for other hangars and related infrastructure. The operation will be named the New Scotland Airfield.
It was skydiving that brought Williamson to the Valley and he has mixed feelings about leaving. He had been planning an expansion in Waterville for a long time, including building a hangar and drop-zone facility, but this isnât possible with the municipality planning to close the airport Sept. 30.
âItâs been a long-term plan here,â Williamson said. âOur intent is to continue operations somewhere.â
This is his 40th season of skydiving in Waterville, having made his first jump on Feb. 28, 1975. Heâs been a pilot since 1985.
âFlying is fun, jumping out is more fun,â Williamson said.
Welcomed with open arms
Williamson described the reception theyâve received in East Hants from the municipality, neighbours and area businesses as âoverwhelmingly positive and welcoming.â For example, the operators of Tidal Bore River Rafting are excited to see another adventure activity business locate in the vicinity.
âWe can make Maitland an adventure tourism destination,â Williamson said.
Robertson said East Hants has been very welcoming. The municipality keeps in contact them through email and telephone calls to ask what they can do to help get them established.
âWe have from the start been provided written permission to proceed as we see fit as long as we both comply to those relevant federal, provincial and municipal rules and regulations,â Robertson said.
He said Transport Canada Aviation is also in full support. That means it will be business as usual for the Atlantic School of Skydiving, which will now have room to grow and further promote safe sport skydiving in Atlantic Canada. The school is a long-time full member of the Canadian Sport Parachute Association.
Canning a better site
Robertson said their new South Maitland airfield could only be better if it were on the Valley floor in Canning. However, that is âprohibitively expensive and already in use as prime agricultural lands,â he said.
Coming from generations of farmers on his motherâs side, Robertson holds a great appreciation for agricultural land. The South Maitland airstrip will be all grass and they are returning 25 acres âfrom alders to hayfield.â He just bought a 1960 farm tractor for mowing and general utility at the site.
Moving over for Michelin
Williamson started looking for another place to operate once it became apparent the Waterville airport would be closing. He said the timeline seems to be accelerated now, even though Michelinâs expansion isnât ready to proceed.
âItâs my hope and intention to operate here at Waterville until the airport closes,â Williamson said. They hope to have the South Maitland facility ready at that point.
While itâs unfortunate for business operators, Williamson said itâs fair to the economy to make room for Michelin on the airport property. However, the decision to close the airport before the Michelin expansion develops makes him âwonder.â
When asked if he has mixed feelings about leaving the Waterville airport, Robertson said he wants the current airport to be saved. If it were left where it is, the problems would be solved. He added that since Michelin has stated that the company has no current plan to expand onto the airport land, the airport should remain unaffected for some time.
County councilâs decision to close the airport âjust cost me personally a pile of cash and created needless headaches,â Robertson said, adding that the decision means the loss of a viable, publicly-owned municipal airport to âspeculation by amateur-night-level business planners that flies in the face of the evidence.â
Robertson also questions Kings County councilâs need to hold so many of the discussions regarding the municipal airport secretly in closed-door, in-camera sessions.