As wind, snow and federal election predictions swirled around St. John’s airport Wednesday, federal and provincial politicians announced $25.8 million for a new instrument landing system that will make it easier to land planes in fog.
Airport officials say fog delays 700 planes and 70,000 passengers annually.
Known as a Category 3 instrument landing system, the navigation aid is designed for extreme fog conditions.
“It’s going to improve traffic dramatically,” said Fraser Edison, chairman of the St. John’s International Airport Authority.
“We’ve got 70,000 passengers that get displaced because of fog in the City of St. John’s every year, and this will eliminate that issue.”
Work on the new landing system will begin this year and the bulk of construction will take place in 2012.
Edison expects completion by early 2013.
Four projects funded
The airport landing system was one of four projects in the province that received a combined $43.3 million under the Atlantic Gateway program to develop an air, rail, marine, and road freight transportation network in the region.
The other projects are:
‰ $10 million for runway upgrades at Gander International Airport;
‰ $5 million for the Marine Institute’s Smart Bay project to install additional buoys and sensors in Placentia Bay;
‰ $2.5 million for a roll-on/roll-off ramp for shipping operations at Argentia.
The cost of each project is paid for jointly by Ottawa, the province, and the airport, port or institution.
Improved airport reliability
Peter MacKay, federal defence minister and the minister responsible for this province, said equipment upgrades will improve reliability and increase traffic at St. John’s airport.
“We all know that weather can be a challenge.
“I was thinking a lot about the importance of this announcement as we were landing in a small aircraft here moments ago,” said MacKay, who arrived in the city late for Wednesday’s news conference.
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Critical to trade and transportation
“We’ve got 70,000 passengers that get displaced because of fog in the City of St. John’s every year, and this will eliminate that issue.” - Fraser Edison, chairman of the St. John’s International Airport Authority.
“The local infrastructure investments that we’re unveiling here today will help this region continue to grow as a preferred route for goods and people and services coming into and leaving North America.”
The federal contribution to all four projects totals $15.7 million.
Susan Sullivan, minister of innovation, trade and rural development, said the four projects announced Wednesday are critical to the province’s trade and transportation network.
“This offers many benefits to Newfoundland and Labrador’s business community.”
Sullivan said exports accounted for almost 40 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product in 2009 — “and created one in every five jobs.”
The provincial contribution to the projects is $14.4 million.
A gateway funding first
It’s the first time provincial projects have received money under the Atlantic Gateway program established three years ago.
When asked about the delay, MacKay said the fund doesn’t work like other programs, such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
“There will be further investments. There’s more money in the fund. There will be other projects announced, and there are significant projects that are under examination here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
MacKay said the federal government is working closely with Sullivan, Premier Kathy Dunderdale and other provincial counterparts.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to see future co-operation and future announcements in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.
Sullivan said it took about two years to analyse and advance the projects through the Atlantic Gateway fund.
“When you’re looking at major expenditures of money — and we’re looking at $43 million in total here this morning — then you really want to make sure that you have it right.”