Federal Conservative candidate Ryan Leef says his party would spend up to $30 million on infrastructure upgrades to Yukon airports if re-elected on Monday.
A portion of the funds, roughly $8 million, would be used to pave the runway of the Dawson City airport. Other possible infrastructure upgrades include the construction of a new terminal in Dawson City, the relocation of the Dawson City airport, or the paving of the runway in Old Crow.
“There are countless benefits to this project – increased capacity for tourism, better service to the mining sector, more capacity for cargo service,” said Leef during an announcement at the Air North hangar on Tuesday. “It will also provide the potential for an airport that will handle military aircraft and strengthen our northern sovereignty.”
The commitment comes as Air North prepares to buy two new ATR 42 planes, which it hopes will be in operation by next summer.
Air North president Joe Sparling said operating costs for the new aircraft will be significantly lower if the Dawson City runway is paved.
“One blade on an ATR propeller is worth about $70,000, and if you happen to nick it with a rock and have to replace it…. That type of damage you don’t see on paved runways, but you do on gravel runways,” he explained.
Air North has been using a Boeing 737-200 with a gravel kit to land on gravel runways. But that plane will soon need to be retired, and Boeing no longer makes that model.
“All of the newer Boeings are certified for use on the paved runways, so they can carry more people,” said Rick Nielsen, Air North’s chief operating officer. “Basically the larger passenger aircraft are largely not certified for use on gravel strips.”
Sparling said aircraft can carry more people when they’re landing on paved runways, which would bring down the cost per passenger. He also said the new ATR 42 planes are faster and more fuel-efficient, which would allow Air North to schedule more flights to and from Dawson. That could provide tour groups with more direct access to the city.
“This is an exciting announcement – probably the next biggest thing to the Gold Rush,” said Leef.
The other infrastructure upgrades will depend on what proposals are put forward within the $30 million budget by the proponents, currently Air North and the Chief Isaac Development Corporation, a branch of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation. Sparling said the current location of the Dawson City airport is not ideal, as it can’t be used at night and fog often causes problems in the morning. But he said that problem could be dealt with simply by scheduling more afternoon flights once the runway is paved.
He said that if the airport isn’t moved, that might free up enough funding to pave the runway at Old Crow, which would help with the transition to modern aircraft.
“If you’ve got one gravel airport, and you’re going to hit all the stops, you’ve got to have a gravel-capable airplane,” he said.
Aside from the focus on the benefits to tourism and industry, Leef was careful to cast the project as part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s bid to secure Arctic sovereignty. He said a paved runway would allow military aircraft to land in Dawson City.
“That just puts us one step closer to the Arctic Coast of the Yukon Territory,” Leef said. “It puts us deeper into the Yukon. It’s just continued growth of what our priority has been as a government to enhance and secure northern sovereignty.”
He also emphasized that this was yet another Conservative promise tailored to the Yukon. His party has also promised to create a Canadian Armed Forces reserve unit in the territory.
“Only our Conservative government to date has made the North, and indeed the Yukon, a priority. Only the Conservative Party has made Yukon-specific commitments.”
Shortly after the announcement, Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell announced that a Liberal government would reopen the Canada Revenue Agency office in Whitehorse.
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