Langley Airport flying high at 75 years old
George Miller will never forget the night he took off from Langley Regional Airport during an earthquake.
It was 1994 and Miller was taking a special flight with former Township mayor John Scholtens, in a ceremony to open the runway lights.
“I had all the lights off in the airport and I drove the aircraft up in complete blackness with just the taxi lights on,” Miller, former manager of the airport, recalled.
There were 150 people watching as Miller handed the mic to Scholtens, who said, “Tower, let there be light.”
“All of a sudden everything was all lit up and it was beautiful,” Miller said. “But here was the amazing thing, halfway down the runway there was an earthquake, and we didn’t even feel it.
“Everyone said to us, ‘you realize that right as you were taking off, there was a real ground tremor here?’ But we didn’t know that, we just flew the circuit and landed.
“It was so funny, I will never forget that. It is one of my great memories.”
Since the airport first opened in 1938, there have been many more stories like that told.
Several Langley politicians shared their favourite memories during the airport’s 75th anniversary ceremony on June 22.
Township Mayor Jack Froese says he once took pilot lessons at the airport many years ago before his business started taking up most of his time.
Councillor Charlie Fox remembers in 1973 when he came to the Langley Airport to train for his commercial pilot license. He and good friend Terry Blair took off in a Piper Cherokee to go to some logging roads at Harrison Lake and “never made it home.” They ended up on the side of a mountain.
“Terry Blair now flies 747s, or he used to fly 747s out of Hong Kong, and I became a teacher,” Fox said.
Councillor Steve Ferguson recalls “the shortest flight” he’s ever been on with another former Township mayor, John Beales, one afternoon.
“When we were up in the air there, John had this funny look on his face,” Ferguson said. “And I don’t know for sure, but I think the engine stopped. He said, ‘we’re going to land.’ John wheeled that right into Don’s repair shop right after the flight.”
MP Mark Warawa will always remember flying in a vintage Waco hand crank plane with his longtime friend, Arne Olson.
As Olson would crank the plane and jump inside, it was Warawa’s job to pull the little blocks out from the wheel before he would climb inside.
“It was frightening,” Warawa recalled. “But I’ve had many incredible experiences here.”
Over the last 75 years, the airport has become a significant part of the community, Miller said.
“I think the important thing from an airport perspective is that the airport users, whether they’re aviation or aerospace industry businesses or whether they’re general aviation recreational pilots, they’re very much in community spirit together,” he said.
“They really feel like they own the airport. And the community does, too. The Township and the City of Langley and Aldergrove — it’s the same feeling. And to me, that’s what makes this airport work.”
When the airport first opened, it was just one of many emergency landing fields built across Canada. But when the Second World War broke out, it was taken over by the Department of National Defence and used as a training base under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
When the war ended it was leased to the Township of Langley and in 1967 the municipality purchased the site from the federal government.
Today, the airport is home to 48 businesses, 27 of which are helicopter companies, and employs 280 staff. With more businesses planning to move in, there are expected to be a couple of hundred more jobs added within the next year and a half.
“Today there are very few communities that are fortunate enough to have an airport, and if they handle it right like the Township has — which is to make it grow and have an economic impact on the community — it’s huge,” Miller said.
“How many communities have not handled their airports right? The Township has handled theirs right by keeping control of it, so it’s a big thing in the community.”
Miller’s son Guy took over as airport manager on Jan. 3, but the elder Miller, a one-time Canadian Forces Snowbird pilot, remains a consultant to the Township on airport operations.