Citing stress and funding, Alberta Aviation Museum boss takes leave

The director of the Alberta Aviation Museum on Kingsway Avenue has taken an indefinite leave of absence , citing stress caused by a lack of public and corporate support — and personal attacks over the city centre airport closure.

In a scathing letter released yesterday, Thomas Hinderks said the museum now has the third-largest aviation community in Canada, but continually faces operational pressures and stresses that may cause it to fail, due to a lack of funding support.

The museum is based at the city centre airport, originally Blatchford Field, Canada’s first municipal airport.

“The tremendous effort of the full time staff at the Museum/Facility is a major component of our success, particularly with a significant loss of volunteers after the airport closure decision. Working for well below market wage and putting-in countless hours of unpaid personal time is now taking a toll on their ability to maintain the needed pace,” he said.

“On a personal note, the cost of the hundreds of hours of work per month to make the Museum/Facility a success has taken a very high toll on me personally, financially and on my family. One cannot continue to maintain 225-300 hours per month continuously without adverse effects. The reward has been the success of the facility, certainly not financial.

“Finally, personal attacks from some extreme supporters of the City Centre Airport looking for a scapegoat have painted me personally as being in favour of airport closure.

This too has taken a great toll and the personal cost during the airport debate has also been very high.”

In fact, without significant changes in an already-reduced funding formula, Hinderks said, the closure could drastically hurt the museum.

“Although we have enjoyed the support of Edmonton City Council as a whole, financial assistance promised us in the 2011 city budget (to deal with short falls due to the changes at the City Centre airport and allow us to begin to adapt) has been cut-back and we have yet to receive any of the dollars.

These same changes to the City Centre Airport threaten the ongoing operations of the Museum and facility.

While we have planned and prepared contingencies as a result of the airport closure, these planned changes will require significant additional space. The decisions on these space needs are tied to the CCR Master Plan which is 18-24 months from completion, and all-the-while we lose momentum and the ability to adapt.”

Hinderks also suggested the museum is stagnating.

“We cannot afford to lose momentum or fail to take advantage of any opportunities presented.

We also cannot continue to operate on a shoe string budget with a skeleton staff while achieving results gaining National recognition and massive benefit to the community,” he said.

Hinderks said he will take an indefinite leave of absence beginning Aug. 1 and to continue until there’s some indication the community appreciates the museum’s potential.

“In the meantime the people of Edmonton, Corporate Edmonton, The City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta need to decide if they want an Aviation Museum and a facility that brings tremendous recognition and benefits to the community/province. If that is the goal then it is time to decide how to assist. The Museum and Society cannot continue to do it alone.”