Saint John airport

The Saint John airport needs $50 million in upgrades to comply with Transport Canada's upcoming safety standards, said president and CEO David Allen. (CBC)

The Saint John Airport is planning a $50-million upgrade of its airfield that would include repaved runways, a 914-metre runway extension and centre-line lighting to help in foggy conditions.

The proposed improvements would be the most significant upgrade to the airfield since the airport was built in 1952.

"The runways are no different than our highways. We do get wear and tear through the freeze-thaw cycle and heavy aircraft operate up and down it, so we have to do some rehabilitation," said airport president and chief executive officer David Allen.

The improvement plan has been in the works for a while, Allen said Wednesday on Information Morning Saint John, but the need has become more pressing with Transport Canada's anticipated new standards for buffer zones.

"Transport Canada is bringing in legislation for runways and 150-metre safety areas, so we have to do something to accommodate that," Allen said.

"We have some limitations when we have wet or icy runways … the takeoff distance is increased and occasionally, particularly with Sunwing, there had to be an intermediate stop because they haven't been able to take off with a full load."

Saint John was left out of millions of dollars in airport improvements in 2011, when the federal and provincial governments spent more than $24 million on infrastructure upgrades in New Brunswick.

The approved airport projects included upgrades to the runway and lighting at Fredericton International Airport, and extending a runway at Greater Moncton International Airport by 1,300 metres.

Allen says it's Saint John's turn for funding.

"There's been no significant money spent on this airport since Transport Canada developed it in the early 1950s and we really do need to spend money on it now as more of a catchup than anything else," he said.

"We've extended our parking lot, we've extended the apron area, so we've been doing bits and pieces over the years. But this is a big project that you can't really do it in piecemeal. If you're going to do it you're going to do it."

No concrete timelines are in place for the project, but Allen said he would look to see funding secured and work get underway in the next three years.