Liberals say they’re still committed to paving Dawson’s runway

The Yukon government says it still intends to pave the Dawson City runway a day after its resolve appeared a little less certain.

The Yukon government says it still intends to pave the Dawson City runway a day after its resolve appeared a little less certain.

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn told the legislative assembly May 16 “this Liberal government remains firm on its commitment to pave the Dawson City runway.”

The minister said the government needs to finish studying the issue, accusing the former Yukon Party of not getting all of the work done when it was in office.

Both the Liberals and Yukon Party pledged to pave the runway in Dawson, something Air North and the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce have said would benefit the community.

“I learned upon coming into this job that the groundwork had not been done,” Mostyn said. “That was frankly a surprise to me, but that was the inheritance.”

When speaking to reporters a day earlier, Mostyn said the government was “nowhere near saying no to paving the Dawson City runway” but added there were questions that needed answers.

“I wish it was clear cut but we’re dealing with federal officials who have federal staff who have safety concerns. There are all sorts of very complicated federal Transport Canada regulations that we’re trying to sift through.

According to the Whitehorse Star, Premier Sandy Silver told constituents in March that Transport Canada had suggested that simply paving the runway wouldn’t bring the airport up to compliance standards for the larger craft Air North would like to use here.

Spokesperson Sunny Patch said the government wants to confirm that paving the runway would not require any changes to the regulations that govern it.

Air North president Joe Sparling said the length and location of the Dawson runway creates some limitations for planes.

“They are performance limitations we can live with, they don’t have a terribly adverse impact on our Holland America charter program for example,” he said.

“We can’t haul quite a full load onto or off of the existing gravel runway. With a paved runway, using a more modern aircraft, we still won’t be able to haul a full load in or out of Dawson. But we’ll be able to haul more than we can haul now, under most conditions.”

Sparling insists Transport Canada has confirmed “that paving the runway will allow us to operate the more modern type of 737 that we wish to operate into Dawson.”

An email from a Transport Canada spokesperson said a runway’s length, width, and surface type determine what aircraft can use it.

“Currently, only gravel-rated aircraft can land at Dawson City Airport. If the airport paves the runway, non-gravel rated aircraft could land there; however, their size would be determined by the new runway’s length and width,” the statement said.

“The owner/operator of the Dawson City Airport is responsible for airport operations, including decisions about runway paving and what type of aircraft can operate into the airport.”

A business case analysis released last year estimates it would cost $11 million to pave Dawson’s runway and that operations and maintenance would cost about $800,000 each year after that. Operations and maintenance of the existing gravel runway cost about $560,000 each year, the report said.

The same report estimates a paved runway would have a net benefit of about $4.7 million over the next 12 years, and would create about 76 jobs during construction.

Money to do the work isn’t in this year’s budget. The government has allotted $250,000 for planning.

If money were no object, the runway in Dawson would ideally be moved, Sparling said.

Moving the runway would give Air North the option of using even bigger planes with heavier loads, he said, though he acknowledged that would come with a larger price tag.

“From our perspective, if it’s spend the least amount of money or do nothing, we would prefer to see them pave the existing gravel surface.”

Mostyn told reporters May 15 that the draft report he’s seen doesn’t mention moving the runway.

There’s no word on when paving could start. The minister said the report he needs is about 75 per cent complete.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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