St. John’s International Airport has a fresh, 10-year improvement plan and a matching $10 increase to the airport improvement fee to help pay for it.
The improvement fee is charged to individual passengers on flights out of the city. It will increase from $20 to $30 as of Aug. 1.
The fee was last raised in 2011, moving from $15 to $20, when the St. John’s International Airport Authority last announced a 10-year improvement plan.
That plan, with a total estimated capital cost of $150 million, included many of the construction projects announced at a news conference Tuesday.
The new plan has a total estimated cost of $243 million.
Since 2011, about $40 million in upgrades have been completed at the airport. They include: an expansion to the airport apron, providing space for five more planes to park overnight; construction of a 30,000-square-foot building for ramp and cargo services; opening of World Parkway, the new airport access road; and the addition of 242 new spaces for long-term parking.
Yet the new airport improvement plan is still expected to cost nearly $100 million more than the old improvement plan.
“The escalating costs, of course, arise as a result of the booming economy,” said Neil Pittman, chairman of the airport authority board of directors, walking through the planned upgrades, while sitting in an airport boardroom, flanked by airport director of infrastructure and planning Peter Avery, president and CEO Keith Collins, and new mockups of a new main airport terminal.
Pittman also credited the rising cost to design changes in projects, including the main terminal building upgrade.
He said the airport authority has confidence in its current estimates on both the required timelines and cost. “There is no such thing as an absolute guarantee in this, but one of the things we are doing with this construction project ... is we have implemented a fairly effective cost-management system, project-management system, that hopefully gets the cost certain,” he said.
The airport authority is also confident in a predicted, continued increase in airport traffic.
That traffic is the justification for the passenger fee and plans to expand the main terminal building from about 175,000 square feet to 400,000 square feet in size.
“When it was opened, just over 12 years ago, it was thought we would reach the one million annual passenger mark in 2012. We reached that in 2004. We’re now handling about 1.5 million passengers each year, in a terminal building that is operating at 67 per cent above its designed capacity,” Pittman said.
The existing building was designed to handle about 900,000 passengers a year. In 2013, the airport recorded about 1.5 million passengers — the highest number on record.
“When the expansion is complete ... the building will be more than double its existing size and will be designed to accommodate what we forecast to be 1.9 million passengers.”
The main terminal renovations are to be completed in two parts, with the departures side dealt with by 2017 and the arrivals side to be completed by 2023.
Another important piece of the overall airport improvement plan is already underway and will be completed much sooner. This is the addition of a Category 3 Instrumentation Landing System (Cat 3 ILS), allowing for more landings and takeoffs in fog and other conditions limiting visibility.
It is expected to be finished in 2015. It is being funded by the airport authority, the provincial and federal governments.
“The weather challenge we’re all too familiar with, and has had an impact on our airport’s operations and, in fact, our region’s reputation, for decades,” Pittman said. “This will eliminate our reputation for being inaccessible, especially during this time of the year when we experience, can experience, extreme fog.”
The airport was seeking funding from the provincial and federal governments for the same system back in the fall of 2009, when Fraser Edison, then-chairman of the airport authority board of directors, said of 1,000 planes unable to land every year, 700 would be able to land with the new system installed.
The St. John’s Board of Trade was on hand for the announcement of the new, 10-year airport improvement plan and the announcement was being marked on social media by Destination St. John’s.
Construction work at the airport is directly financed through new bond and bank financing, to be repaid with the airport improvement fee.