The territorial government released a tender this week for the paving of the Dawson airport runway. (Lori Fox/Yukon News file)

Liberals issue tender to pave the runway at Dawson City airport

The upgrade means more fuel efficient planes can operate our of the airport

The Liberals have taken the next step towards paving the runway at the Dawson City airport, an issue that’s been batted around for years.

The Yukon government issued a tender this week, which closes on Sept. 18.

Joe Sparling, Air North’s president, said the development would be a boon for the town and keep air travel affordable.

He called the step “huge” for bringing northern airport infrastructure up to speed.

“It’s going to allow us, in the long run, to establish Dawson as a tourist destination,” he said.

Paved tarmac will allow jets with better fuel economy to access the airport, he said, namely 737-500s — “classics” that cannot perform on gravel runways, the type that’s in Dawson now.

There are four airplanes of this caliber in Air North’s fleet.

“Modernization in the North has been a challenge for northern air carriers for some time,” Sparling continued. “There’s only a half dozen or so across all of northern Canada” that are paved.

Transportation standards require that “a runway’s length, width, and surface type determine what size of aircraft can use it,” a Transportation Canada spokesperson said in an email. “If the airport paves the runway, non-gravel rated aircraft could also land there, however, the size and type of aircraft that could use the newly paved runway would also be determined by the new runway’s length and width as well as the aircraft’s type certificate and the aircraft flight manual.”

It’s unclear when construction will be completed.

According to the government tender, construction involves about 1525 x 31 metres of tarmac. All work will be completed by July 31, 2019, it says. Included in the same tender is the patching of Front Street in Dawson.

Brittanee Stewart, spokesperson for Highways and Public Works, said a completion date will be hammered out “once the contract has been worded and timelines can be planned.”

The project will not affect the terrain surrounding the airport, she said. Stewart said she presumes this is because the paved runway will be the same size as the gravel one.

While the runway is paved, plans are to use the airport in Mayo, then shuttling passengers to Dawson, said Sparling, adding that construction will last for about seven days next spring – potentially between mid May and mid June.

“There won’t be a suspension of service,” he said. “We’ll keep flying. There will just be another airstrip.”

The jet that can currently land in Dawson (a 737-200) burns about 20 per cent more fuel than the newer iteration, Sparling said.

Both jets are the same size, fitting 120 passengers.

Five large turboprops planes are able to land on gravel, too. Pavement, regardless of the class of craft, will reduce maintenance costs, Sparling said.

“It’s going to be less wear and tear on our airplanes,” he said.

He confirmed that, in respect to weight and despite the relatively short runway, booked-solid flights for scheduled service operations can come and go without difficulty.

It’s an operation that requires balance, though.

“You couldn’t carry enough fuel out of Dawson with a full load of passengers to fly to Vancouver, for example,” Sparling said, noting that if such a flight were to occur, fewer passengers would be able to board.

A business case analysis released in 2016 says it would cost roughly $11 million to see the project completed. Operations and maintenance would cost about $800,000 in consecutive years.

Operations and maintenance of the existing gravel runway cost about $560,000 each year, the report said.

The report estimates a net benefit of the project pegged at about $4.7 million over a 12-year timeframe. About 76 jobs would be created during the construction period.

With files from Ashley Joannou

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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