News: Opportunity now knocks

Published in the September 23 2010 issue of The NAIT Nugget. News

Opportunity now knocks

Photo by Karen LePage

Issues Editor

The debate to close the Edmonton City Centre Airport, which has been drawn out for more than a year with attention recently re-surfacing over the summer, finally came to an end last Wednesday.

The decision that the petition a group trying to save the airport circulated over the summer is invalid and the airport will be closed as originally decided back in July 2009, means a number of implications both positive and negative for NAIT students.

The phased airport closure should free up land that the NAIT Students’ Association intends on using as a way to lower student fees, said Tessa Cocchio, NAITSA VP Academic.

“Our students have some of the highest student fees in the province and the reason is we rely solely on our student fees to form our budget,” Cocchio said. “NAIT is bursting at the seams, it needs to expand. As NAIT expands, the Students’ Association needs to expand as well and we plan on having our own building on the airport lands.

“If we had revenue-generating operations in our own building, then we’d be able to drop our student fees,” Cocchio said.

Currently a NAITSA fee of $137.50 per semester is applied to every full-time student’s tuition, a fee that would decrease once NAITSA is able to bring in other sources of revenue on the airport land.

But Envision Edmonton, the group behind the effort to save the airport, said NAIT and its Students’ Association can still expand without the ECCA closure.

“NAIT expansion still exists in our City Centre Airport plan,” said Johanna McIntosh, media relations officer with Envision Edmonton.

She said the closure would likely have more negative impacts for students than most would think, at least for NAIT’s aviation program.

“If the airport is closed, aviation students will have no way to practise. The people in the aviation industry will have no place to go,” McIntosh said. “You’ll probably lose your whole avionics program.”

But Bill Baker, associate chair of the NAIT avionics engineering program, said while the closure wouldn’t likely affect aviation students in the classroom, it could affect them once they graduate.

“With all of this back and forth and everything that has been going on with the airport, [businesses] are just fed up with Edmonton and councillors so they’ll move to where they’re welcome, which would be Calgary,” Baker said. “That could have an impact on our graduating students, that there won’t be jobs available around here for them.”

Still, the Students’ Association, which has been closely involved and supportive of the ECCA closure process, attending consultations and meeting personally with city councillors last year, see only good in the closure.

“There’s no spot on campus for us to build and there’s really nowhere for NAIT to expand itself because it’s land-locked,” said Jason Roth, NAITSA’s director of advocacy.

“With the airport closing, it presents a pretty much once in a lifetime opportunity for both the institute and the Students’ Association,” Roth said.

In order for the opening or closing of the airport to be included as a question on the upcoming municipal elections ballot, Envision Edmonton’s petition had to have at least 78,244 signatures.

After a 20-day review, the city found only 73,567 of the signatures were eligible electors.

On top of that, City Clerk Alayne Sinclair said the petition was filed well after the 60-day repeal or amendment period allowed for changing council decisions under provincial law. That period ended last year.

NAIT executives declined to comment on the airport closure issue.

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