The main terminal building at St. John’s International Airport Authority will become a construction zone beginning in late April or early May, remaining simultaneously open and under construction through at least 2020.
According to the airport’s director of community relations, Marie Manning, the work will not interfere with the areas used by passengers coming and going, but will instead be focused on either end of the main terminal.
The construction is part of the $150-million airport expansion announced in February 2011, when the airport issued a 10-year capital plan, laying out improvements to virtually all areas of the airport’s property.
Manning could not say if the overall project was on time or on budget, but there are indications of both delays and added costs.
“Our director of infrastructure and planning is still working through everything to finalize the numbers, the dates, the schedules,” Manning said. “We’re hoping to have it all finalized in a couple of weeks.”
Expansion to date
The airport’s current facilities are designed to accommodate about 900,000 passengers a year. Passenger numbers at St. John’s International reached nearly 1.5 million in 2012 and are expected to increase to 1.9 million by 2020.
As a result, since 2011, the airport authority has moved ahead with the construction of a ramp services building of roughly 30,000 square feet, to support cargo service; the apron at the terminal building has been expanded, to allow an extra five planes to park overnight; passenger bridges connecting the main terminal to arriving planes have been overhauled; and spaces have been added to long-term parking.
On Dec. 3, 2013, a new access road to the airport’s main terminal — the World Parkway — was opened.
However, one of the toughest pieces of the overall project, in terms of customer service and cost, is yet to begin. That expansion to the main terminal building is subdivided into two parts, the East Expansion and West Expansion.
Contracts are in the process of being let for the East Expansion, with an estimated total cost of $55 million, according to documents obtained by The Telegram.
Changes will include the movement of pre-board screening to the first floor of the building, extensions to the check-in counter, added spaces for food and beverage sales and two additional flight gates.
Additions more noticeable behind the scenes will include a new loading dock and larger goods storage area; an increase in the size of passenger hold area for security; and a renovated baggage screening area.
“The intent is a facility that leaves a positive and memorable impression while providing a calm and relaxing environment for the customers of the (airport authority),” the documents state.
Work will start this spring and continue to 2017.
That timeline indicates the overall airport project is behind schedule, as a 10-year capital plan from 2011 pegged the East Expansion to be completed in 2015 — two years earlier than the current timeline.
In September 2013, Keith Collins, the airport authority’s president and CEO, suggested to The Telegram a 10-month strike by 85 airport maintenance workers had set construction back. That strike ended July 2013.
Other potential factors for the change in timeline have yet to be set out by the airport authority.
More to come
The East Expansion for the main terminal building totals about 13,500 square metres. The Telegram has yet to obtain any cost estimate or timeline on the smaller West Expansion, around the cargo and arrivals side of the building, estimated at 6,700-7,500 square metres.
In the three years since the overall airport expansion was first revealed, one piece — a plan for rapid development of 270 acres of land around the airport — has changed.
The concept was to create an airport business park, leading the airport to propose a partnership with the City of St. John’s, to gather the funds to service the area with basic amenities like water and sewer. According to St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, the city decided not to make the required up-front investment in the industrial park, leaving the cost to be taken on by the airport authority and private enterprise.
A city staffer stated an application for the business park has not been filed with the city to date.
At the same time, O’Keefe said he considers the overall expansion of the airport an important project.
“To be honest, I look upon the airport as being one of the pillars of the infrastructure, the economic infrastructure, of the city and of Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said, noting the City of St. John’s has helped with a $1-million contribution to a piece of work already completed.
In terms of future updates, O’Keefe was anxious to hear more about when a new instrument landing system, to allow more planes to land in foggier weather, might be installed.
The entire airport expansion is being paid for through an airport improvement fee of $20 per person, paid by departing passengers.