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Ottawa and the Province Commit $14-Million to Upgrades at Saint John Airport

Porter Airlines
The Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 aircraft makes its first landing in Saint John last fall. Image: submitted

SAINT JOHN – The federal government is contributing more than $10-million and the province $4-million toward infrastructure improvements at the Saint John Airport, the premier and federal transport minister announcement in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Marc Garneau, the Minister of Transport, says the upgrades will support the growth of the local economy.

“These improvements will ensure that the Saint John Airport remains a key driver in activity here in the province of New Brunswick,” said Garneau.

“This not only means good construction jobs here at the airport but also means that we are improving the movement of people to their destinations and the movement of goods to market – the goods that Canadians produce and sell.”

Premier Brian Gallant also focused on the economic impact of the infrastructure investments in the airport.

“As part of our multi-year economic growth plan, your government is committed to making strategic investments in key infrastructure that will grow the New Brunswick economy and create jobs,” said Gallant. “Investing in the Saint John Airport will positively impact our economy and the quality of life in our province.”

The airport had applied for $11.25-million in federal funding through the National Trade Corridors Fund to help with $22.25-million worth of safety and infrastructure upgrades. It hasn’t received federal funding since it was privatized in 1999, says airport CEO Derrick Stanford, and now needs to make significant and costly improvements.

“We’ve got a pretty big piece of infrastructure that we inherited from the federal government that we’ve been maintaining,” said Stanford in an interview Wednesday with Huddle. “But it’s come to a point where these runways do need repaving. We do need to add better and more modern lighting, add a centre-line lighting down the middle of the runway which is key for navigational purposes these days.

“We’ve done a great job maintaining it, but like anything, it’s getting a bit long-in-the-tooth and it needs refreshing.”

The airport is also going to add safety areas that are now being created at airports to protect planes that go past the end of runways on occasion.

“[Airports are now] building these zones at the end of runways to help in case a plane was to overshoot the runway,” said Stanford. “They would land in these soft areas that would both provide a soft landing but also de-accelerate the plane and make it a much safer emergency stop – rather than hitting the ground and driving through bushes, tree stumps, rocks and that kind of thing.”

Stanford says the airport has many ways of generating revenue – leasing land to local companies, charging passengers fees, operating a cafe and gift shop – but it needs the federal support for upgrades of this magnitude.

“We’ve been keeping our passenger fees the same for a number of years,” he said. “We can lease land, and we’ve got a lot of tenants on the property. We’ve got a pretty thriving corporate air service between the Irving companies and Cooke Aquaculture. The Coast Guard is building a new terminal for its helicopters.

“We’ve got a lot of different levers to pull, but when you’re faced with a $22-million investment, that’s a lot of magazines you’ve got to sell, and coffees you have to sell.”

Wayne Long, Liberal Member of Parliament for Saint John-Rothesay, says the community stakeholders have worked long and hard to secure this funding.

“I’ve been working with Derrick Stanford, [former board chair] Norm McFarlane and the Saint John Airport for over two years now advocating for this funding,” said Long on Wednesday. “It’s a great example of how I can advocate with Ministers and departments in Ottawa on behalf of proponents in my riding and get things done.”

The airport plans to begin work this spring and complete the upgrades by December 2019.