One of the largest airport runways in Canada is getting a makeover

Gander chamber of commerce says Halifax flight cancellation will hurt local business

Gander International Airport, which received worldwide attention for the role it played in safely grounding 38 wide-body planes on 9/11, is now receiving $5 million for upgrades.

The money will be used to rehabilitate critical infrastructure by resurfacing Runway 13/31, which is over 10,000 feet long, as well as adjacent taxiways and side roads.

"We have one of the largest runways in the country," said Liberal MP Scott Simms, who announced the project Wednesday on behalf of federal transportation minister Marc Garneau.

"It can land any sized aircraft, from the smallest Cessna to the A380, the big Airbus double-decker."

The repairs will focus on uneven surfaces and poor grading on the roads and runway, which make thorough ice and snow control efforts difficult. Those problems can also hurt ground equipment. 

The project is expected to drum up new business for Gander's airport. The federal government says the project will have a significant effect on the local economy and employment in particular through the creation of an estimated 100 jobs.

Safe harbour

Gander's airport was built in the 1930s, and for decades was a key refuelling stop for transatlantic travel. 

However, the advent of the jet age saw a significant loss in traffic, although the airport is still a hub in Atlantic Canada — and can host large aircraft in short order, as was proven when U.S. airspace suddenly closed on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Simms referenced 9/11 when explaining how crucial he felt the new upgrades were.

"This is going to go a long way … we desperately need it for regularly scheduled aircraft," he told CBC News.

"Plus this is a safe harbour. As a safe harbour, you have to be ready, and you can't be ready unless you have the right infrastructure in place."

Simms believes that with the upgrades and the new Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, there will be an increased role for the airport in international trade.

"This is a golden opportunity for trade. Not just for Gander, obviously, but also for the entire seafood industry for Canada and particularly for Newfoundland and Labrador."

'It's due time'

Reg Wright, the president and CEO of Gander International Airport Authority, says that one of the biggest challenges for small airports is raising capital for big expenses like infrastructure.

"Runways need to be rehabilitated every 12 to 15 years, and in this case, it's due time for it to be addressed," Wright said.

He said that repairs are slated to be completed by early fall, but that may change depending on the frequency of inclement weather. Once completed, Wright expects the results to speak for themselves.

"It's going to bolster safety at the airport. It's going to be better and more conclusive for aviation and trade. There's a host of benefits for this investment."  

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Correction : A prior version of this story had inaccurately presented the name of Reg Wright, the president and CEO of the Gander International Airport Authority. (Jul 12, 2018 5:54 AM)