Let’s say you decide to renovate your home or put an addition on it.
What’s one of the first questions that arises?
How much is it going to cost? Naturally, that’s what you need to know. Of course affordability is front and central.
And yet some officials from the Department of Infrastructure have been making stops here and there to give presentations on potentially expanding the Yellowknife Airport without any dollar figures attached. Oddly, this is known as a “master plan.”
They are providing five options — some clearly more expensive than others — but all with unknown price tags. Cost estimates weren’t even provided when briefing the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment on March 31.
And that was despite previous stakeholder comments that included: “Difficult to evaluate options without costs. How will project be funded?”
The existing airport terminal building is a little over 59,000 square feet. It was built in 1967 and upgraded in 1998 and 2005.
The master plan, completed before Covid-19 struck, projected strong airport traffic growth of 2.4 per cent per year. As the Infrastructure officials acknowledged recently, “that’s no longer possible” due to the pandemic. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Passenger traffic has plummeted, down a whopping 62 per cent in 2021 compared to 2019.
Don’t get the wrong impression. This isn’t an argument to grind all airport enhancements to a halt. There have been and continue to be improvements to the airport’s fleet of maintenance vehicles and equipment. There are runway and lighting upgrades and better drainage initiatives. The airport lounge is being expanded too. There’s been approximately $24 million worth of improvements since 2018. The facility has not been sitting idle.
And remember, since 2017, the airport has been able to retain revenues from such things as airport improvement fees to fund its own capital projects.
At this point in time, we certainly don’t need the Taj Mahal of airports. As Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly pointed out, many people simply want better service: “They want bridges, they want less waiting time, maybe a little bit better quality food, nicer seating, more space.”
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson knocked the ambition to create an airport hotel and a bunch of retail space when there’s already an abundance of vacant retail space in Yellowknife’s downtown, which is only 10 minutes away from the airport. He’s right – there’s no need for the airport to be competing with downtown businesses.
The territorial government should concentrate its efforts on helping badly wounded NWT tourism operations get back on their feet. There’s years worth of rebuilding to be done for those who survived the onslaught of the pandemic, a crisis that may or may not be easily manageable in the future, depending on the potency of the next variant.
So let’s approach any airport overhaul at a very slow and deliberate pace, not a full gallop.
A public engagement session is supposed to take place mid-month and there’s a survey that will soon be available through the GNWT’s website. Those would be a good opportunities to let these Infrastructure officials know that their plans to expand the airport should be aborted for now.