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Huronia Airport has evolved into soaring success

Once a grass strip, airport in Tiny now houses flight school and is base for search and rescue missions

The Huronia Airport has taken off over the years, and it hopes to put wind beneath the wings of young aviators.

While the flight school may not be on par with Top Gun, the local chapter of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association is hoping to attract young people interested in flying.

The best of the best can apply to Discover Aviation, which offers children as young as eight years old a 15-minute flight over Georgian Bay. All you need to do is apply with your name, age and address.

“It’s something we do every year. Kids go up and fly. They can even take control and fly the plane around (under supervision of the pilot, of course),” explains airport manager Eric Duffy.

“It’s a way to get people interested in the aviation industry. There’s no cut-off age. It used to be 17, but we’re happy bringing in older teens as well.”

The free flight for young people is motivated by fewer people entering the profession.

According to the Centre for Aviation, a pilot shortage started before the pandemic, but was exacerbated by departures from the profession during COVID-19 and the restrictions that led to airport traffic coming to an almost complete halt.

Thanks to improvements made during the pandemic, and over the years, the Huronia Airport has seen a lift-off in overall traffic.

The airport evolved from a grass strip in the 1960s to a paved 4,000-foot runway in the late 1970s.

“Paving the runway got us a fair bit more traffic,” says Duffy.

In 1994, the current terminal replaced what looked more like a small home with a brick-and-mortar building.

Originally, the airport was essentially an open field used as a landing strip with little to indicate it was an airport. The traffic coming through the landing strip then was mostly for local farmers and small businesses, according to Duffy.

The current airport houses an internationally acclaimed airplane kit manufacturer, Zenair Ltd., and a flight school for ultralight aircraft, XStream Flight School.

Some recent improvements including an upgrade to the ground fuelling system in January 2021 provided relief for aviators during the pandemic.

“We are a base for search and rescue operations,” says Duffy.

“Thankfully, we haven’t seen so many this year. In past years, the rescue missions will fly out of Trenton and fuel here while they’re searching the bay.”

Thanks to a $310,000 federal funding infusion received in August last year, the airport updated its runway lighting and maintained its GPS landing system, ensuring it can continue to offer services for local pilots and valuable refuelling stops during rescue missions.

“We can get a lot of medevac flights in and out, depending on the wind and if they can land at the hospital,” explains Duffy, stressing the importance of the small airport as a hub for lifesaving work in the area.

While you wouldn’t be at fault for not knowing the area had an airport, each year, the airport hosts a private aerobatics competition that attracts pilots from around the country, and brings a few more planes into local skies.

Around the time of the competition in mid-August, you might look up wondering where all the planes are coming from: Huronia Airport at 20 Ed Connelly Dr. in Tiny under the airport ID YEE.

During the competition, the pilots perform impressive manoeuvres in small aircraft while staying within the bounds of an invisible box.

The aerobatics competition is small and attracts an equal-sized crowd of about 30 spectators.

“We would welcome any other people that want to come and watch the contest,” says Duffy.

While Duffy does not have a pilot’s license, he has enough flight hours to get one, and he plans to when his children are older.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he says of what attracts him to working in aviation.

“It’s something different every day.”

If you’re on the ground repairing equipment, or soaring through the clouds, working at keeping people and planes in motion and above the ground certainly puts the wind beneath at least one manager’s wings (to be completely earned once he passes the test and the checkride).