Airport spreads its wings

A $16-million expansion of the Whitehorse International Airport is designed specifically for customs agents and security reasons, says the…

A $16-million expansion of the Whitehorse International Airport is designed specifically for customs agents and security reasons, says the project’s manager.

The two-year project adds space for passenger security clearance and a 230-person holding room that will serve as an in-transit lounge for international flights.

“The existing airport really has no facilities for customs agents,” said Mike Cowper, senior project manager in the Highways and Public Works building branch.

“They’re coping the best they can. The design and management and construction will be done in the realm of high security.”

The government released the design and details of the new expansion at a press conference Wednesday morning in the airport.

The 2,500-square-metre expansion should be completed in November 2009, according to government estimates.

About $6.5 million will be spent in 2008/09 while another $7.4 million will be spent in 2009/10, if the legislature approves the spending.

Another $1.8 million has been set aside for the final phase of a parking lot expansion.

In addition to the extra security measures, the plan includes a new larger baggage carousel and an oversized passenger and freight elevator.

The extra space adds another wing to the existing airport that will include three levels.

An expansion was necessary to handle the increased international traffic and United States security concerns, said Highways and Public Works Minister Archie Lang.

A year and a half ago, German airline Condor threatened to bypass the airport because of strict US security regulations that the Whitehorse facility couldn’t handle.

A temporary passenger holding building was erected to placate the airline until the imposed 2008 deadline

Ongoing negotiations with Condor and US authorities allowed the territory to push back the deadline, said Lang.

“They were more flexible about the deadline,” he said.

“This is a big project and they understood that.”

Regular international flights will continue to land in Whitehorse and Condor remains committed to this market, he said.

German flights remain the territory’s largest international market, said Tourism and Culture Minister Elaine Taylor.

In 1998, 3,330 German passengers deplaned at the airport. Ten years later that number increased to 4,700.

The business brought in by Condor contributes about $8.5 million annually to the territory, said Taylor.

“We’re one of the smallest airports to receive international flights and these upgrades will help facilitate and sustain and the growth of flights to the Yukon from international markets,” she said.

Built in 1985, the airport was designed to handle small planes. It can handle 139 domestic passengers at a time.

Management of the airport was transferred to the territory from Ottawa in 1996.

Already, $3.9 million has been spent on parking upgrades. An additional 237 stalls will be added for a total of more than 400.