The Gander Airport Authority made a tough choice in order to keep its terminal afloat, but the decision could leave the architectural gem that is the current airport at risk.

The 200,000-square-foot international airport will be left for a building a quarter of the size to keep the operation viable.

The terminal, which was built in the 1950s and has drawn continuing worldwide interest for its modernist design, was once one of the most popular hubs in the world, as it was a stopover for international flights. Some 400,000 passengers went through the airport each year during its golden age. 

But times have changed, and the authority said it simply cannot afford the status quo. 

Gary Vey, CEO of the airport authority, said the choice seemed to be between maintaining the building itself, or keeping an airport in Gander.

Gary Vey

Gary Vey, CEO of Gander Airport Authority, says they cannot continue to operate out of the old airport because costs are too steep. (CBC)

"We don't have a million and a half international passengers transiting here anymore, and it's unlikely that day will ever come back, but that's what this building was constructed for," said Vey.

It cost the airport authority $800,000 to heat and light the airport alone last year.

"We don't think it's fair to jeopardize the viability of the airport to maintain this old building," he said.

"It's a tough decision to make, but it's one that we felt that we had no choice but to make at this point."

Fate of the building uncertain

However, heritage buffs in the community worry about the fate of the old building, which still has many of its original furnishings and fixtures still intact.

Heritage advocate Shane O'Dea said planning should begin now to make sure the old building doesn't get torn down, and architectural items aren't lost.

Shane O'Dea

Heritage advocate Shane O'Dea says maintaining the airport building as a heritage site will be an important part of Newfoundland and Labrador's history. (CBC)

"We're not terribly careful of the buildings of our grandparents or our parents age, but these, some of these are really quite wonderful," said O'Dea.

"We didn't do that well in Newfoundland, but this has to be one of the best."

O'Dea noted that the airport has been recognized by other Canadian institutions as a valuable piece of heritage architecture.

The airport authority agreed that it's a gem of a space, but it's running a business — not a museum.

Plans for the new terminal, and where it would be located, are set to be complete by September.

The airport authority would then have to find a way to finance the project, meaning there's no word on when it would become a reality.