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Red Lake airport looks to Ottawa for infrastructure funds

Runway shave and pave in the plans for northwestern Ontario field
Red Lake airport terminal
With a new passenger terminal built at the Red Lake Airport, management is turning its attention toward repaving the main runway.

Management at the Red Lake Airport is hoping to land federal funding in early 2018 to begin final preparations for a multi-million-dollar runway and taxiway paving project.

Airport manager Duane Riddell said they’re at a “fairly progressive level” in making headway in applying for Transport Canada funding to repave Red Lake’s 5,000-foot runway.

It was last resurfaced about 15 years, but it’s in dire need to be done again.

“We’re going to pulverize and repave the whole thing. We have to re-verify the sub-grades because we have lots of cracking. The last time they did an overlay it just cracked in the same spots.”

The airport has applied for funding for the runway, an apron expansion to deal with an aviation congestion issue, and a taxiway reconstruction and expansion to meet better government aviation standards.

With that comes the need for new signage and the replacement of 1,000 feet of antiquated lighting.

The whole $13-million project is dependent on federal funding through the Airport Capital Assistance Program (ACAP).

“It’s a substantial project. I don’t think the community can stand not having the runway open most of the time for medevac,” said Riddell.

The airport is a critical asset to Red Lake’s economy.

Much of the aviation traffic is mining-related with charter aircraft shuttling transient workers on a rotational basis in and out of the Goldcorp’s Red Lake mine complex, as well as catering to some of the smaller mining companies like Pure Gold and Rubicon.

The airport averages about 25,000 flights a year; a volume that’s declined slightly with recent rounds of layoffs at Goldcorp, said Riddell.

The airport also serves as a staging base for Wasaya Airways, Bearskin Airways, Superior Airways and North Star Air to fly freight, grocery store supplies and passengers to remote communities in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba.

The summer tourism season also accounts for “quite a bit of business through the airport,” said Riddell, with general aviation aircraft and corporate jets.

The runway can accommodate aircraft as large as a 737 – provided it doesn’t take off at full capacity – but regularly handles ATR-72s, Hawkers and Dash 8s. Red Lake’s proposal goes before the national selection committee of ACAP (Transport Canada) in November.

Riddell expects to hear by next January if they get the money.

“When you get to the stage of actually presenting to the committee, you’re in good shape. The question is whether there’s enough money (in the ACAP budget) to do it.”

Riddell said they’re competing for dollars with plenty of other airports in the northwest with runways all the same age.

Should the airport land the funding, Riddell said they’ll spend the year finishing the final design and doing some ground preparation work before tendering out for construction.

“It doesn’t make sense to do final design until they tell you what they’re actually going to fund.”

As part of the three years of pre-planning work, Transport Canada engineers have made multiple visits to Red Lake, said Riddell, including a geotechnical study and pre-engineering estimates to arrive at a cost.

“We were lucky that the Transport Canada/ACAP guys landed on our runway in their jet and bounced all the way down and said to me: ‘You need to pave your runway.’”

Riddell estimates the airport has already spent $110,000 in studies towards this project.

“We’ve made a significant financial commitment already which would be refundable should the project go ahead.”

With a new passenger terminal built just seven years ago, the runway is now the airport management’s main infrastructure project for the near future.

“With new runway and apron expansion and taxiway done, we’re good for another 25 years,” he said.

The airport is a subsidiary of Thunder Bay International Airports which operates the facility. It’s an independent authority running on ACAP funding and aviation user fees to pay the bills.