Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

PAVING DESIRED – Air North president Joe Sparling says airport infrastucture is essential to travel and business in the North, and paving Dawson’s runway would advance those interests.

Paving Dawson runway would be a lift: Air North

Air North could experience a “serious material impact”

By Sidney Cohen on May 16, 2017

Air North could experience a “serious material impact” if the Dawson City Airport runway isn’t paved in fewer than five years’ time, says Airline president and CEO Joe Sparling.

For the last three years, Air North has flown between 15,000 and 20,000 passengers in and out of Dawson each season, as part of its agreement with cruise ship line Holland America.

Right now, Yukon’s Airline supports the entire Holland America program with one gravel-capable Boeing 737, and that aircraft is nearing the end of its life span, said Sparling in an interview this morning.

He said it’s unlikely the plane will still be flying in five years.

“Paving the existing runway would allow us to operate with a more modern aircraft and it would improve our payloads (total weight of passengers, luggage and cargo) in and out of Dawson,” said Sparling.

The Liberals campaigned on a promise to pave Dawson’s gravel runway, but there is no money for paving in this year’s budget. Rather, the 2017-18 fiscal plan includes $250,000 for Dawson airport planning.

In the legislature on Monday, the Yukon Party challenged the Liberals to restate their commitment to paving the runway in Dawson.

“At a meeting on March 17, the premier told the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce there were a lot of questions about whether the runway should be paved or not,” said Yukon Party MLA Geralidine Van Bibber.

“It is starting to sound like the premier is backing away from his clear promise to Yukoners and the clear commitment made in his platform.”

To this, Richard Mostyn, the minister of Highways and Public Works, said the government is gathering information, and that it has a plan that is “75 per cent done.”

“It would be irresponsible for a government to make a decision — a political decision — with only 75 percent of the information,” he said.

The premier blamed his predecessor for vowing, prematurely, to pave the runway at the January 2016 Mineral Roundup in Vancouver.

“What we’re finding out is that the homework wasn’t there,” said Sandy Silver, who promised his home riding of Klondike a paved runway.

“We are not going to pave runways this year because the work required to do so has not been done.”

The former Yukon Party government earmarked $395,000 in last year’s budget for a Dawson City Airport Development Plan.

It was not clear this morning how much of last year’s budget for planning was spent.

It would cost an estimated $11 million to pave the runway, and another $805,000 in annual operating costs, according to a January 2016, business case evaluation done by the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce and Peak Solutions Consulting.

For Air North, the ideal solution would be to relocate the runway to a spot that would allow it to be extended, but Sparling said that would be far more costly and he would rather see the existing runway paved than no action whatsoever.

A longer runway would allow Air North to fly in larger payloads and do so in less favourable conditions, such as high winds and rain, explained chief commercial officer Ben Ryan.

With a longer runway, the Boeing 737 could haul its maximum capacity of 122 passengers in all flyable conditions.

Currently, said Ryan, Holland America is restricted to flying around 65 people per flight.

Paving the runway would allow the company to fly at least 100 passengers in almost all weather conditions, he said.

“Extending the runway would certainly add value, but simply paving the runway would add the most value for the least amount of complexity,” he said.

Ryan said Dawson’s runway length is limited by its location.

Sparling said he’s been privy to discussions surrounding the future of Dawson’s airport, and that a consultant has produced a report with options ranging from paving the existing runway to relocating the runway and the terminal.

There do not appear to be regulatory impediments preventing the runway from being paved, said Sparling; rather, it seems that the biggest obstacle is cost.

Mostyn said the report he’s working with, the one that’s purportedly 75 per cent complete, examines improvements to the airport at its current site. Relocating the runway does not seem to be an option at this time.

The government is still analyzing “all sorts of very complicated Transport Canada Regulations,” and dealing with federal officials who have safety concerns, said Mostyn.

Ryan questioned concerns about safety, saying pavement is safer and superior to the gravel that’s there now.

“If we’re able to safely fly there with an unpaved runway, paving the runway is clearly an improvement to the overall safety of flying to the airport,” he said.

Paving the runway is still on the table, insisted Mostyn.

“This is a couple of months into a five-year mandate,” said Mostyn, adding he is “not losing any sleep about breaking promises at this time.”

But for Air North, the clock is ticking.

Worst-case scenario, said Ryan, is that Holland America asks another, non-Yukon, airline to fly its passengers.

Or, said Ryan, Air North is forced to run turbo-prop aircraft, which have less capacity.

There are two paved runways in the Yukon and about a dozen in Canada North of 60, said Sparling.

“All across the North, we have to begin improving our aviation infrastructure because we rely on aviation for people to get around; it’s like our highway system,” said Sparling.

“If we want to develop the North, we have to improve our infrastructure and make it easier to get around. Paving runways is a huge and necessary step.

Comments (11)

Up 0 Down 0

William S. on May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

@ Charlie Brown - I hereby make a citizens arrest on you for admitted speeding on Yukon Highways endangering not only your life but anyone else on the road at the same time.
If I can't bring you in myself, I beseech the assistance of one Ryan Leef to see that justice is truly meted out

Up 9 Down 3

north_of_60 on May 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm

The southbound lane of the Klondike highway from Minto to Whitehorse is in the worst condition. The damage is obviously from the loaded ore trucks. Why isn't the government using the revenue they get from that mine to at least maintain the highway that the ore trucks tear up?

Up 12 Down 0

Elmer Vasko on May 19, 2017 at 3:07 pm

The money spent on the expansion of the museum on Front Street that nobody visits would easily pay for this paving project.
The priorities in this fiefdom never cease to amaze me

Up 17 Down 5

CHARLIE BROWN on May 17, 2017 at 5:46 pm

In April 2004 I made it from Tim Hortons to Dawson in 4hrs.
It would be suicide to make that record.
I drive these highways. To bad these leaks in the pay roll politicians never drive this Klondike Highway. They would see the road is in very bad shape. And don't blame it on the east quake. It's because of stupidity.

Up 21 Down 6

Hugh Mungus on May 17, 2017 at 3:44 pm

The highway to Dawson 75kms either side of Pelly is and absolute abomination. I was up there a few weeks ago, frost heaves, potholes larger than my truck and a half dozen single vehicle rollovers.

Up 34 Down 7

Sandy Silver stated during the election on May 16, 2017 at 9:56 pm

have the Dawson runway paved.

Up 48 Down 6

Scott on May 16, 2017 at 8:55 pm

Air North is not the only beneficiary of paving the Dawson runway. My company does about 20% more movements than Air North, albeit with smaller aircraft and significantly smaller passenger numbers.
Moving the airport is ridiculous. The plans to extend the runway have already been put in place. Just pave it and quit spending money on study after study after study.

Up 22 Down 20

Arturs on May 16, 2017 at 6:15 pm

This runway should have been paved long ago what with all the budgets the Yukon Party spent money on who knows what.
Again we are saddled with the negligence of the Yukon Party. What did they develop? Hiways are in horrendous shape but every year we saw road contracts coming through for the Teslin area without much real improvement. They still have construction signs up on sections that were supposedly finished and repaired years ago. Drive between Morley river 777 and Teslin 804 and see for yourself. Yukon Party milking procedures were in full effect forever.

Up 15 Down 20

Jonathan Colby on May 16, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Corporate Welfare

Up 42 Down 11

Nile on May 16, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Well Mostyn you and your party already made the decision. Unless you were lying that is.

Up 38 Down 63

Scott Holmes on May 16, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Maybe Joe should have thought about all of this before hitching his wagon to the Conservative and Yukon Party's during the last election cycle. I also wonder why Yukon should shoulder this cost. If Air North is the beneficiary then they should pony up. The Holland America train is quickly coming to an end and Yukon does not need to be saddled with a million dollar a year boondoggle.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.