June 8, 2022 By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal
THUNDER BAY, ONT. — After 18 months of planning and consultations, the Thunder Bay Airport’s main runway is undergoing a $20.4-million rehabilitation.
Construction on runway 725 began on May 16 and is expected to conclude on Oct. 15. More than half a dozen contractors are working on the project. Of these contractors, two are from an outside source due to specific airport requirements and complexities.
Ryan Brading, the airport service manager, says the improvements will incorporate the latest technology, increase the life of the runway, create environmental sustainability and increase aviation safety.
“The runway is getting repaved with 150 millimetres of new asphalt that we are milling and applying on top,” Brading said. “We’re doing some reflective crack repair and there’s quite a bit of it actually, under the runway, so we’re employing some glass grid technology to seal the asphalt so that the reflective cracks don’t form.”
More than five kilometres of electrical cables and conduit will be replaced. All of the runway edge lights, which are incandescent halogen lights, and all the signage will be replaced with LED technology.
“This is the first high-intensity LED runway edge lights that we’ve seen at our airport, “ he said. They will increase visibility for pilots and reduce power consumption.”
A sub-drain system that runs the entire perimeter of the runway between eight to 10-feet below ground will also be replaced.
The main runway itself will not be lengthened in the project.
“I wish we could. But we’re not,” Brading said.
“There are restrictions. We have a railway to the west and a highway to the east and that’s as big as it’s going to get — [7,318 feet]. We are reducing its width from 200 feet wide down to 150 feet.”
He added that they will still be able to serve the same level of service for aircraft and there will be less asphalt that has to be maintained and cleared of snow.
Issues at Pearson International Airport that are strictly related to passenger flow on the terminal side are not connected with the construction at the Thunder Bay Airport.
“We are experiencing the same staffing issues with our security staff as well, so we feel the pain,” Brading said.
“The Canadian Air Transportation Authority challenges and the backups happening in the terminal building in Pearson, are completely unrelated and not affected to our construction operations.”
Meanwhile, aircraft traffic remains the same with planes using secondary runway 1230. Some airlines, like Flair, chose not to land in
Thunder Bay during the construction while others alternated their aircraft to accommodate the shorter runway.
In preparation for the disruption on the tarmac, consultation with all airlines that fly into Thunder Bay took place well in advance of the work being done.
Brading says all airlines work well on the shorter, crosswind runway with set plans and approaches for things like thunderstorms, cloud cover, and weather conditions that will always affect flights.
At least 50 per cent of the funding for the improvements was provided by Transport Canada’s airports capital assistance program (ACAP) fund, which some airports are eligible for based on passenger numbers.
“Because of COVID, we had significant passenger reductions which actually enabled us to qualify for funding. It’s really good news for the airport and it’s the first major capital project like this that’s ever been funded by ACAP,” he said.
When the work is finished, Brading says Thunder Bay will have a new runway with the latest in airfield technology and infrastructure that will last for more than 25 years.