Main runway work at St. John’s airport to affect flights

Airport authority says additional 125 to 130 flights per month could be delayed or diverted

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on May 27, 2015
A rendering of the future St. John’s International Airport shows new, now-completed parking areas, but also upcoming additions to either end of the existing terminal building. The airport authority’s 10-year improvement plan, estimated at $250 million, also includes improvements to runways, with work on the main runway to cause some added stress to travellers this summer.
Image courtesy of St. John’s International Airport Authority

Construction work at St. John’s International Airport in 2015 will result in closure of the main runway, resulting in the potential for more than the usual number of flights being delayed or diverted, affecting travellers.

The runway will be closed June 1 and will reopen, in part, on Sept. 30 — allowing for the majority of traffic to again use it. Under the standing schedule, the runway will reopen, full-length, in December.

But from June through September, according to the St. John’s International Airport Authority, there will be an increased risk of flights being diverted or delayed, depending on the weather — mainly wind speeds.

The closure of the main runway is allowing for several upgrades, including resurfacing and the addition of new lighting, with in-tandem work by NavCanada in establishing the new Category 3 instrument landing systems (Cat 3 ILS).

That long-discussed landing system is expected to allow 700 more incoming flights a year to land in the province’s notoriously foggy conditions, airport authority president and CEO Keith Collins said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Weather currently causes trouble for about 1,000 flights a year.

The airport authority will not pay for the new landing system, with that roughly $2-million cost falling to NavCanada, but will cover related infrastructure to the tune of $37.3 million — cost-shared with the provincial and federal governments.

Closure was a given

The closure of the airport’s main runway would have happened in any event, for required resurfacing within the next two years, according to airport representatives.

The runway is about 8,500 feet long and 200 feet wide and the airport’s secondary runway is about 7,800 feet long, at the same width. There is also a tertiary runway, used for smaller flights, on clear-view days.

Landings typically depend on wind direction and speed, meaning these will be the two main factors during the critical construction period this summer.

The new landing system will allow aircraft to take off and land in lower-visibility weather and will ultimately increase the usability of the airport to 99 per cent — on par with the top eight airports in Canada.

The work is being completed as part of the 10-year expansion and improvement plans, also including a more than doubling in size of the airport’s main terminal building, to 400,000 square feet. The current building was designed for about 900,000 passengers per year, it was noted, while the new structure is expected to be able to service roughly two million.

Additional parking and new roads have been added, plus more spaces to store planes overnight. It all comes at a total estimated cost of $245 million for the entire 10-year capital works.

The estimate, revealed in April 2014, is about $100 million more than expected when the project was conceived in 2011. The added cost was attributed mainly to higher-than-expected prices on construction and to the “booming economy.”

Construction work at the airport is directly financed through new bond and bank financing, to be repaid with the passenger-paid airport improvement fee. That fee was increased from $20 to $30 in August 2014 to help fund the airport’s long-term improvement plans.

To date, construction costs remain in line with estimates.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com