Feasibility studies for a new airport in Nain to be completed by 2024

Nain could get a new airport, a mock-up of which is pictured here, if a dozen studies show that the area can support one. (Submitted by Colin Gilbride - image credit)
Nain could get a new airport, a mock-up of which is pictured here, if a dozen studies show that the area can support one. (Submitted by Colin Gilbride - image credit)

Multiple feasibility studies for a new airport in Nain are currently underway after Nunatsiavut government announced in early September that the community's current runway is unsafe and can't be repaired.

The new airport would feature a gravel airstrip measuring about 1,500 metres long.

The current airport remains usable for now, but a timeline on how long it remains usable has not been determined.

"I think anyone that's been to the community understands that there's a significant gap in a critical piece of infrastructure, which is the airstrip,"  said Colin Gilbride, director of infrastructure and planning for Nunatsiavut.

"Currently, the airstrip isn't able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week,"

Climate change is also affecting the current runway's load-bearing capacity.

"Right now, a high tide on the existing airstrip only has a three-foot buffer before the water is actually on the strip," Gilbride said.

"So this causes further deteriorating situations."

Submitted by Bert Pomeroy
Submitted by Bert Pomeroy

A 12-kilometer access road, beginning at Annainak Brook, will have to be constructed connecting the community of Nain to the proposed new airport, which would be located to the southwest of the community.

Nain's harsh local geography, which includes higher elevation, low cloud ceiling, and inconsistent wind direction, limits the operational capacity of the airport and presents construction challenges.

The road will therefore need to have three water crossings bridges or structural culverts built into it. The surrounding terrain, which is prone to avalanches, and the poorly drained low-lying areas will also provide additional hurdles.

Additional bore holes and test pits will have to be built to understand the ground water levels, as seasonal changes in water volume and permafrost forming during winter conditions can deteriorate the structural integrity of the proposed runway and other buildings.

Submitted by Colin Gilbride
Submitted by Colin Gilbride

A total of 12 feasibility studies will be conducted, of which three have been completed. Gilbride has said the remaining nine studies will be completed by 2024.

If further studies are not required, a final decision will be made on the location of the new airport. The environmental and impact assessment stage of the project will then include community consultation and land-use mapping.

The health-care system on the north coast of Labrador remains heavily dependent on flying patients to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The air ambulance service would have more scheduling flexibility if the runway is operational around the clock.

In light of that, Gilbride is adamant that a new airport is critical to developing infrastructure for the north.

"The main impact ... that this will have is allowing [in] any kind of emergency situations the possibility of 24/7 access to getting out of the community if it's needed," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador