The Yukon government has plans to start planning possible upgrades to the Dawson City airport this year, including the paving of the airport runway.
Premier Darrell Pasloski made the announcement at the 2016 Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver this week.
But the commitment seems a little anemic after former MP Ryan Leef’s campaign promise that the federal government would spend up to $30 million on Yukon airports, including $8 million to pave the Dawson runway.
Leef lost to Liberal MP Larry Bagnell in last fall’s federal election.
Now, it seems, the project has gone back to the drawing board and the numbers are all up in the air again.
Highways and Public Works Minister Scott Kent said the cost of the upgrades still needs to be worked out. But he said early estimates for the runway paving are about $11 million – a jump from the $8 million envisioned by Leef last year.
Kent said operations and maintenance of the runway would likely cost another $500,000 each year.
He said he hopes the federal Liberal government will contribute to the project, though nothing has been worked out yet.
The Yukon government also needs to figure out what other upgrades will be completed along with the paving, Kent explained. Possibilities include rebuilding or relocating the Dawson airport terminal building.
The territory also needs to figure out a plan to pave the runway without causing too much disruption to flights, particularly during tourist season.
Even though Leef’s campaign promise sounded firm, Kent said, all of this planning work would still have been needed if the Conservatives had won.
“There’s still a number of unanswered questions that we have to address.”
Kent said the runway won’t be paved this year, but the work might start next year.
The functional plan will be tendered this year. Kent said he expects the plan to cost about $300,000 or $400,000. Funds will be allocated in the spring budget.
The plan will estimate the cost of the upgrades, and will outline how to manage the permafrost beneath the airport runway. It will also look at safety recommendations from Transport Canada.
In the fall, Air North president Joe Sparling said operating costs for two new ATR 42 planes it planned to buy would be significantly lower if the Dawson runway were 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 at the time.
Sparling also said aircraft can carry more passengers when they’re landing on a paved runway, which would bring down the cost per passenger.
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