Skydiving business moving from Waterville to South Maitland

Published on June 9, 2014
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.
TC Media - Kings County Advertiser/Register

WATERVILLE - David Williamson doesn’t 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.

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 school’s two Cessna 182s and room for other hangars and related infrastructure. The operation will be named the New Scotland Airfield.

Mixed feelings

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 isn’t possible with the municipality planning to close the airport Sept. 30.

“It’s been a long-term plan here,” Williamson said. “Our intent is to continue operations somewhere.”

This is his 40th season of skydiving in Waterville, having made his first jump on Feb. 28, 1975. He’s been a pilot since 1985.

“Flying is fun, jumping out is more fun,” Williamson said.

Welcomed with open arms

Williamson described the reception they’ve received in East Hants from the municipality, neighbours and area businesses as “overwhelmingly positive and welcoming.” For example, the operators of Tidal Bore River Rafting are excited to see another adventure activity business locate in the vicinity.

“We can make Maitland an adventure tourism destination,” 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.

“We 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,” 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 “prohibitively expensive and already in use as prime agricultural lands,” he said.

Coming from generations of farmers on his mother’s side, Robertson holds a great appreciation for agricultural land. The South Maitland airstrip will be all grass and they are returning 25 acres “from alders to hayfield.” 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 Michelin’s expansion isn’t ready to proceed.

“It’s my hope and intention to operate here at Waterville until the airport closes,” Williamson said. They hope to have the South Maitland facility ready at that point.

While it’s unfortunate for business operators, Williamson said it’s 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 “wonder.”

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 council’s decision to close the airport “just cost me personally a pile of cash and created needless headaches,” Robertson said, adding that the decision means the loss of a viable, publicly-owned municipal airport to “speculation by amateur-night-level business planners that flies in the face of the evidence.”

Robertson also questions Kings County council’s need to hold so many of the discussions regarding the municipal airport secretly in closed-door, in-camera sessions.