Buttonville Airport Destruction Starts Monday


Machinery will move onto one of Canada’s busiest GA airports Monday to begin the destruction of the facility to make way for a warehouse development. Buttonville Airport, just north of Toronto, will officially close on Nov. 30 but the decommissioning of the first of two runways will take place this week. Local pilot Phil Lightstone told AVweb that airport officials advised operators of the 30 to 40 aircraft still parked at Buttonville to fly them out as soon as possible. It’s not clear when work will begin on the second runway, but when it does all operations will cease. “We will accept and service aircraft until that is no longer an option,” airport spokesman Robert Seaman said in an email to tenants.

The closure is displacing about 300 aircraft and will significantly affect GA access to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). No new airports have opened in the area since the Buttonville closure was announced but several nearby facilities, notably Oshawa, have absorbed most of the aircraft, traffic and associated businesses. Buttonville is privately owned and began as a grass strip in 1953 in what was mostly a farming area. The facility is now surrounded by dense urban development and will become part of that landscape over the next couple of years. The company that bought the airport plans to build 2.78 million square feet of warehouse space on the 169-acre site. Some of the hard surfaces will be retained to provide access to the industrial space.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Warehouse development. General aviation looses another airport. I guess we can see who and what gets priority here.

    • Makes sense. GA is a cost and a liability while businesses will pay the city, have their own insurance, and won’t have the FAA to back them up.

      Video killed the radio star; internet meetings killed the need for small GA.

      • It was privately owned, so not a cost. Likely, the taxes were part of the reason the land needed to be redeveloped.
        The problem is that GA fields are not seen for their true value, and neither is private flight. One reason has been the increased costs causing lack of innovation. If small businesses used light aircraft as much as they did 50 years ago, this would not be happening. One reason they don’t is that when convenient fields disappear, many possible business uses for non residents also disappear.
        While it’s possible that piston GA was doomed by better tech, it seems to me more obvious that GA was kept from better tech by an oppressive bureaucracy fueled by populism, romanticism, and careerism.

  2. I can’t address the attitudes of Canadians, but particularly in the Northeastern US, folks have been falling out of love with aviation since at least the early ‘70s – maybe earlier. “Fence hangars” – gone. “Airshows” – meh, lots of cancellations and no-shows. The 121 carriers are facing some serious hiring challenges in the short term future in the lack of qualified maintenance and aircrew applicants – i.e., the bottom has dropped out.

    And the number of small to medium sized airfields are disappearing seemingly overnight, being bulldozed into oblivion – call it the “Meigs” effect. Even the aviation museums are experiencing dwindling foot traffic.

    I think the problem is that young people just aren’t encouraged to “work with their hands” any longer. Yes, computers are taking over everything – our skillsets – and even our attention. “Fine motor skills” are so “last century.”

    I could go on, ad nauseam: but I also believe that as we lose aviation in the hearts of the incoming generation, we also lose our freedoms, and the ability as a society to think independently and critically.

    … why invest in aviation, when that same investment in a Caterpillar bulldozer will reap a better ROI?

    • I generally agree that people aren’t being encouraged to “work with their hands” and go into a trade instead of college, though I blame that more on the high school counselors who have been scaring students into believing if they don’t get a college degree they won’t be able to get a job.

      But that alone doesn’t account for the decline in the popularity of GA. And I don’t think it’s really a lack of interest in “fine motor skills” since there are plenty of physical activities that younger folks are into.

      I think the real problem is the amount of time and money it takes to become a private pilot, and some corrupt FSDOs/DPEs around the country. The ACS (vs the PTS) has many advantages, but despite with the industry claims, it *does* increase the amount of time that checkrides take.

      • Time, money, and effort. Public education does a poor job of teaching students to learn. Pilot training is a very unfamiliar environment as a result.

    • The cost of aircraft ownership is another factor. High insurance costs going higher sometimes more than just yearly. Also, maintenance and parts are higher than a kite. Then throw in the green movement and what that is doing to aviation fuel and oil costs. It just goes on and on. These plus reasons already mentioned above do not bode well for individual aircraft ownership.

    • Add the effect of video games to the reasons why young people aren’t yearning for the experience of real-world flight. Video games now provide a remarkably rich – if artificial – “hands on” experience in a variety of (artificial) environments, without the cost and time and inconvenience of real-world flying.

      And add the interstate highway system and modern automobile design to the reasons why light-GA travel has fewer practical advantages. (There are exceptions; Jill Tallman pointed out to me how much easier and faster a trip from Fredrick, MD to Ocean City, MD is by GA than by car for a day at the beach.)

  3. You’ll never read the headline, “Failed warehouse facility being razed to make way for new airport”. And it is a bit our own fault for not being better evangelists for general aviation.

    Somebody, somewhere in the past left us this airport and we assumed it would just always be here. But it takes as much if not more effort to keep an airport going as it did for the original visionaries that put out the first tiedowns and built the first hangars on a grass field.

    Do we expect taxpayers to support a place for old white men in cargo shorts go to drink coffee and talk about flying the dusty Cherokee 140 that’s been in the middle of an annual for 10 years?

    Wanna keep an airport open? Buy gas ( lots of it ), hire mechanics to keep the airplanes active, hire CFIs to keep pilots sharp and safe. Dig deep or be prepared to watch the bulldozer parade come for your airport next.

    • Will that didn’t work in this case. Buttonville was the busiest GA airport in all of Canada. Tons of training activity, many flourishing businesses on the field, tons of fuel sold.

      The problem is the cost of real estate in Toronto is now so astronomical (tiny 1000SF two bedroom “starter homes” selling for upwards of $2M) that the value of the land the airport sat on was huge…huge enough that someone took the money and ran, airplanes and GA be damned.

      Toronto now has no viable GA airport. It is served only by distant airports in the suburbs. You now have to drive an hour plus out if the city to reach a GA airport.

  4. This is so sad. Toronto is the 4th or 5th largest city in the U.S. and Canada. (Similar to Houston or Chicago) and there is no virtually G.A. airport to service the city. The only option, Toronto Island Airport (Billy Bishop) is overcrowded due to the commercial airline Porter. A Ramp fee there for my twin is $280 + landing fee + parking. Oh, and there are no jets allowed at Billy Bishop. So most business traffic is going to Pearson International.

    I moved to Oshawa several years ago when Buttonville was sold, knowing that there would be chaos when Buttonville finally closed.

    It’s sad to see GA dying out here.

    • Houston area lost Porter and Weiser because of developers with money. I’m half expecting Hooks to be sold off next. I never hear of new GA airports opening so yea, it’s a slow death.

  5. Chino, CA, historic center of warbird activity and a now waning dairy industry, is currently being surrounded by new mammoth warehouse distribution facilities. They are not just huge, but strangely ominous in a manner which is hard to describe. Roads to accommodate the industrial expansion are being rebuilt and widened, including traffic lights where stop signs had sufficed since the dawn of the automobile. The Planes of Fame air museum cannot conduct their annual airshows right now because access to the airport is severely hampered by construction detours and closures, though even later one can imagine that warbirds making low pass approaches over four story warehouses that occupy many city blocks will not be popular. The museum’s attempts to end run this obstacle include moving much of their flight operations up the CA coast to Santa Maria, with a separate museum facility to be completed in the next few years. It is still somewhat rural in that area, but one must believe that no region is immune from the type of expansion forced by population and consumer demand for services, as both continue to increase. That, and the diminishing appetite for historical study among many in future generations, will likely not bode well for those of us who still have a wistful eye for such things. Enjoy it while you can.

  6. The article says that the location of this airport was originally mostly (outlying?) farmland, which has been intensely developed over the last 70 years. Other older airports have experienced a similar fate.
    If GA were a viable industry, it would find a way relocate and build new airports farther away from intense urban/suburban development. Yes, land is expensive. Too expensive to support GA airports?

  7. It’s the same old song being repeated everywhere in North America. As the article said, the airport was built out in the country a half-century ago in the middle of good farmland. But then city grew out to eventually surround the airport, and in the process, converted thousands of acres of prime farmland into streets, businesses and housing. This isn’t necessarily something personal against aviation, it’s just business – the land becomes more valuable for development than for running an airport or growing crops. Follow the money. Our problem is that, as several others have said, we have failed to convince politicians and the public of the value of the airport to the community. I know it is a tough sell, considering the changing attitudes of younger generations toward GA, made even tougher in the face of the hideously expensive cost to purchase and operate even a modest light plane.

  8. Indeed, it looks like GA is slowly dying. Yes, there are places where you can get faster and more conveniently by plane, but given the cost, restrictions (weather, weight, licenses, regulations etc), cars are way more reliable and convenient. It’s a lot of fun to fly, but it’s just an expensive hobby for enthusiasts, not something that can generate a lot of business interest and profits

  9. GA suffers from excessive cost, brought on by absurd product liability laws and excessively expensive near-zero-defect regulation.

    42k+ for an engine overhaul.
    1000 for a car part (starter) with a PMA sticker slapped on

    And an overwhelming chunk of every new GA airplane’s purchase price goes to protect the manufacturer from predatory litigation (like suing Cirrus because someone died in a crash caused by continued VFR flight in IFR conditions)…..

    Between the FAA and the product liability lawyers…. At least in the US, GA doesn’t have a great future.

    • Spot on. The decline in GA began in the 70’s and only stopped, after in the early 90’s, a tort reform was passed to stem lawsuits. But it wasn’t enough nor nearly soon enough and the effects continue today. Cost is the driver for the continued decline. The economic impact studies of GA airports don’t support the notion they provide little or no value to the communities they support. Quite the opposite. Just ask people of communities that have shut down airports in the last 10 years. But grease the right hands of politicians and anything is possible. Simply put developers have large amounts of capital to “sway” politicians and public opinion.

  10. I see a lot of hand-wringing, but this really is nothing more than the natural urbanization of certain areas.

    When I soloed my uncle’s Cub (at 14) from his grass strip across Buffalo Creek from the highway, it was a long cross-country to CLT. None of us had radios, no one at the airstrip flew for business, and we never saw a Fed. Back then, an airplane was just a motorboat using a different medium, and most of the pilots (well, some of the airplane fliers were actually pilots) had both. Our airstrip was not that different from the popular boat launch ramp at the lake, or from the farmer’s field adjacent to it that we landed in. Sixty years later, “They’ve all gone to [houses]. Every one.”

    I’m not going to defend the process; it is natural, and in general, it’s a good thing. I like having all the commercial amenities nearby (if not the traffic), but my aircraft are now based at a gen-u-ine airport, with a hard-surface runway, instrument approaches, hangars, and self-serve fuel. Incidentally, it’s the same driving distance as it was to my uncle’s grass strip which had none of those.

    I seem to be far more optimistic about GA than some of you, who enjoy the gains of urbanization but decry the costs. But there will be small grass strips until the entire US is subdivision-ed, at which point the country will have far bigger problems than a small group of people wanting to go aloft in their own aircraft.

  11. Big money being is being invested in eVTOL,and as the rich get richer biz jets took the place of piston twins.Maybe park the 60 year old C170,or the brand new Homebuilt near them

  12. Our little residential “skypark” illustrates perfectly the effect of GA’s decline. We originated back in the mid ’80s as the dream of the long-term FBO/airport owner-operator whose plan was to make some money converting his airport to a fly-in residential project with the airport as HOA common area. The residents’ HOA would maintain the airport while he retained the FBO property as a private commercial lot. He would use his profits to expand with rental hangars and continue operating his beloved FBO/flight school as a dream retirement.

    Fast forward a few years and the development happened but at a net loss for the FBO owner and his financial partners. He lost the FBO property and his dream. The facility sold, but the new owner quickly discovered there was no way a FBO could be operated as a profit-making business, nor would the planned rental hangars be a financially viable investment at today’s cost of construction. Today the only remaining vestiges of commercial aviation business are a self-service fuel unit and a few tie-downs; todays owner of the property runs a specialty fabrication business out of the old FBO facilities.

    There is simply no business case for a GA-only airport today. Ours is secure only because it is “personal property” ancillary to our private residential properties, maintained 100% by our HOA dues with no expectation of profit from its existence.