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NNSL Photo/graphic

If Yellowknife Airport's primary runway were extended to 10,000ft, the city could expect bigger planes to visit such as this 777, which made an emergency landing back in 2004 for engine repairs. Boeing's Jumbo 747s have also utilized the airport in emergencies however, the current 7500ft primary runway does not meet safety standards for regular landings of anything larger than a 737. - NNSL file photo

MLA says airport needs longer runway

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins believes the Yellowknife airport's 7,500-foot primary runway needs extending.

"We shouldn't be expecting thousands and thousands of tourists (if the runway were extended to 10,000 feet) but if we became a direct conduit by opening ourselves up to new markets we could build a different type of traffic which would absolutely have an economic spin-off," said Hawkins.

To make his case, Hawkins cites a 2001 aeronautical market study, which reported a 10,000-foot runway at Yellowknife airport could provide, in theory, "an amazing number of new foreign markets."

With direct flights from Tokyo to Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse airport's 10,000-foot runway, Yellowknife is already losing a big chunk of its aurora tourism - a $14 million-a-year industry - to competing locales.

During question period at the legislative assembly last week, Hawkins pressed Transport Minister Kevin Menicoche to develop a strategy "so we could work on getting an extension to the Yellowknife airport runway."

While Menicoche did not rule out formulating such a strategy, he said he was not hopeful.

"At this point, the numbers just aren't there to extend our runway and the people coming in," he said. "In fact our infrastructure out there just cannot accommodate the 747s because of their height and the amount of pumping pressure that fuel trucks will need to provide for them."

The catch-22 is that without 10,000 feet of runway and applicable infrastructure to handle larger aircraft, the region will never know the potential payoff of lengthening its landing strip.

The 2001 aeronautical report noted that were the runway extended, "65 major international carriers were identified as having aircraft in their fleets capable of reaching Yellowknife with economically attractive payloads."

As well, the report suggests 38 national, regional, cargo and specialty carriers based in North America could use a larger Yellowknife landing strip in addition to stopover clientele.