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Whitehorse plans airport expansion as Condor expands service

After threatening to pull its Whitehorse service, Condor airlines pulled an about-face Wednesday and announced it would run more flights from…

After threatening to pull its Whitehorse service, Condor airlines pulled an about-face Wednesday and announced it would run more flights from Frankfurt, Germany, to Whitehorse in 2007.

Earlier this month, the German airline revealed the flight might be discontinued due to American security regulations.

But after meeting with Yukon government representatives and Canadian and US transportation safety officials, Condor announced a new deal had been hashed out.

“Authorities will do some measures to bring back what we need, so we will have the same flights next summer,”  Condor’s envoy from Frankfurt, Roland Langlitz told reporters.

“We found solutions to problems … so we can try to improve the connection between Germany — between Europe — and Whitehorse.”

Next year’s service will be extended by a month, with flights continuing up until the end of October 2007, confirmed Langlitz, a specialist for Condor’s long-haul commercial flights.

“We want to start earlier and stop later,” he said.

While this year’s schedule runs from May 9th to October 3rd, flights for next season are planned to go from May 8th to October 29th.

This would mean about 2,000 additional seats, said Langlitz.

Since 1999, the Lufthansa-owned airline has been flying 269-seat Boeing 767s twice a week from Frankfurt to Whitehorse, before continuing on to either Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Since September 11, 2001, US security regulations have required an empty-cabin search on airplanes stopping in foreign countries before entering the United States.

This requires passengers to de-board the plane while the search is carried out.

However, as the Whitehorse Airport is too small to accommodate those unloaded passengers, Condor was granted an exception that allows its cabin search to proceed with passengers on board.

Pressure from the US to make travelers leave the plane forced Condor to consider canceling its service to Whitehorse.

But on Wednesday, the Yukon government agreed to enlarge the city’s 20-year-old airport.

“What we’re looking at now is actually expanding the airport to meet the current and near-future needs,” said assistant deputy minister from Highways and Public Works, Bob Magnuson.

“We’re very close to finishing the initial planning for that potential expansion, and we’re in what I would call the final throes of the decision-making processes now.”

The expansion would likely include a two-floor extension to the air terminal, with the bottom storey being used for an in-transit lounge.

Also being discussed are an enhanced baggage-carousel area and a new bridge.

The government is currently looking at “two or three different options,” one of which will be approved “hopefully within a month,” said Magnuson.

The government has budgeted $1.6 million in its 2006/2007 budget for the expansion. And additional $50,000 is budgeted for airport security improvements.

Construction will likely begin in the spring of 2007 after the Canada Winter Games rush and will, hopefully, be complete for the beginning of Condor’s 2008 season, he said.

The expansion would allow for greater opportunities for flights from Asia as well as other flights for the winter tourism season, said Bill Blahitka, the Yukon government’s director of Aviation and Marine.

“It would also give us greater flexibility, because right now we have great difficulty handling an international flight and a domestic flight at the same time,” he said.

The US will require Condor passengers to leave the airplane in Whitehorse for cabin searches next year.

“We’re looking at a temporary provision for the summer of 2007 that would carry us over until an expansion was completed in 2008,” said Blahitka.

One option would be a tent-like structure on the north side of the building with seating and washroom facilities.

While there are usually between 50 to 150 in-transit passengers, a tent would likely provide enough space for up to 200 people, said Blahitka.

The other option would be to use secure buses to hold the passengers.

Condor’s Whitehorse service delivers about $7 million in tourism trade to the territory annually, according to the Yukon’s department of Tourism.

While the airline has agreed to include Whitehorse in the 2007 season, it hasn’t made any long-term commitments, said Langlitz.

“I don’t think about a period of five years; decisions are made on such a short basis. I just think about 2007 and I’m optimistic about the rest of the time,” he said.

Condor is also contemplating a third flight to serve Whitehorse exclusively, he added.

So far this summer, Condor has seen a six-per-cent increase in bookings between Frankfurt and Whitehorse from last year, said Langlitz.

“Destination Yukon is very popular in Germany,” he said.