Englishman fights for ‘freedom to fly’

·4 min read

HANOVER – There’s nothing Phil Englishman would rather have been doing on recent sunny winter days than taking to the skies over Brockton in his Cessna 172.

He could be flying – he’s in good health and has the documentation to prove it. He has to pass a medical every two years and stay up-to-date on safety requirements (he passed the annual safety course only a few days ago).

He can’t get his plane out of the hangar at Saugeen Municipal Airport (known as the Hanover airport) because a pile of snow and a large concrete block have been placed to block access, part of a dispute between Englishman and the airport commission.

“That would be like the town telling you, you weren’t safe to drive and putting rocks in front of your garage door,” he said.

The dispute has been ongoing, following an alleged incident in August of 2020, and includes a cheque for annual access fees that Englishman said was delivered to but not cashed by the airport commission, a subsequent charge of trespassing (a $65 ticket) that remains before the courts, demands by the airport commission regarding a parking space and shed at Englishman’s hangar, repeated complaints by the airport commission to Transport Canada, and now the concrete block.

Englishman said the trespassing case was to have been heard in court this week, but was postponed. Regarding the complaints to Transport Canada, he said he’s heard from them and they’re not even going to investigate.

A letter has been sent by Doug Ronan, a director and Eastern Vice-Chair of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), to the mayors and councils of Brockton, Hanover and West Grey, and the Saugeen Municipal Airport Commission.

The letter addresses “the unfortunate series of events that has led to the ‘termination of access to taxiways and runways’ of one of our longtime members and former COPA board member, Phil Englishman, at the Saugeen Municipal Airport….”

“There goes freedom to fly,” commented Englishman.

Englishman explained that the airport’s taxiways and runways are under federal jurisdiction, while the airport property itself is owned and operated by the three municipalities of Brockton, Hanover and West Grey.

He has a hangar on private property adjacent to the airport.

Ronan outlined in the letter some of the things Englishman has done for the airport including involvement with numerous Aerobatics Canada annual competitions and organizing the highly successful national COPA convention in 2012, both of which brought pilots from all over North America to the airport.

He noted the airport used to be a key destination for many pilots in days gone by, when they’d fly in for Sunday morning breakfast at the restaurant prior to its closing.

Many local youngsters had their first flight in a small plane thanks to Englishman’s support of and participation in the Young Eagles program.

Englishman chaired the committee that brought the Snowbirds to the airport in 2017, and raised $15,000 so the airport could have the latest and safest instrument approach technology.

Although Englishman didn’t go into detail about “the incident” that occurred in August of last year and Dan Gieruszak, chair of the airport commission, declined to comment on it, Ronan’s letter described what happened – an attempt to announce his intention via radio, which failed because of the amount of traffic on the frequency, followed by a “perfectly legal” procedure used when a plane has no radio or the radio isn’t functioning, for landing on the runway Englishman determined to be safest.

Gieruszak did state, “Part of the responsibility of the airport commission is to ensure the safety of the flying public and the communities we serve.” He didn’t comment on the nature of the complaints to Transport Canada, but said, “We will continue to do so if we see any activities that are unsafe…. We will take the measures to ensure safety.”

The airport commission chair said, “People from all over the province use the airport, and we will ensure all use the rules and regulations established by Transport Canada.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times