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Nixon signals plans to pave Dawson runway

Dawson City's airport might soon be getting an asphalt upgrade.

Dawson City’s airport might soon be getting an asphalt upgrade.

Tourism Minister Mike Nixon presented a motion in the legislature this week aimed at increasing tourism in the territory and giving a hard look at the prospect of paving the airport’s runway.

In an interview on Monday, Nixon said the motion was meant as a message to Yukoners and the tourism industry that the government takes their requests seriously.

Air North and Holland America have both been working closely with the government, Nixon said, looking for ways to meet the increasing tourism demand in the Klondike region.

Last year Holland America wanted to give its tour customers an easier way to get from the Klondike to Denali National Park in Alaska, so it partnered with Air North to arrange flights from Dawson City to Fairbanks. At first U.S. Customs and Border Protection refused to grant Air North the landing rights needed, but in November last year it reversed its decision, allowing the one-hour flights to go ahead.

The problem, Nixon said, is that with a gravel runway, the flights can’t carry as many passengers as they could with asphalt.

“Bill Fletcher from Holland America, he explained it to me in a way I hadn’t heard it explained before,” Nixon said.

“The way the airport is set up right now, Air North can land with 100 passengers. That’s the plane coming from Fairbanks. Holland America tours coming up from Whitehorse and Dawson, they can only take 60 because the plane can only take off with 60 passengers.”

That’s because aircraft need more runway to take off than they do to land.

“If Holland America believed that they could sell all the seats on the plane, and right now they don’t know because this is something new they are doing, then potentially we could fly 120 people from Fairbanks and 120 out from Dawson back to Fairbanks,” Nixon said.

“That’s an additional 60 people coming up the Klondike Highway and an additional 20 going down for a total of an extra 80 people on the ground,” he said.

The territory currently has $2.86 million set aside in this year’s capital budget for community airports, up from $2.37 million last year.

The government is also looking at finding funding to get Yukon tourism advertising on TV.

In January, the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon asked the government for $5 million over two years to fund a TV advertising blitz to promote the territory.

Until now the government hadn’t given any official response to the request. On Monday, Nixon said it’s going to lean on the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, or CanNor, to find the funding.

“We’re putting forward a new application to CanNor for an enhanced two-year Canada - U.S. marketing campaign that would include a component of TV marketing. There’s no budget about what we’re asking for yet. That will come out in the later portion when and if this application gets announced,” he said.

Even without a dollar figure attached, that’s still good news to Neil Hartling, the TIA chair.

“TIA is very appreciative of the minister’s support for the expanded marketing campaign and positive moves to secure the $2.5 million needed to increase the reach of Yukon’s marketing,” Hartling said in an email.

“We have unused capacity that we know the market wants, we just need the increased market penetration to reach the consumers. It will be a good news story for everyone and Minister Nixon is instrumental in seeing it through. The resulting high tide will float all boats in the economy at a time when it is desperately needed,” Hartling said.

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