Goose Bay Airport reviewing how recent 4-day closure was handled

The Goose Bay Airport Corporation is looking at what could have been done better during last week's unusual four-day shutdown of the airport runways.

General Manager says decision to close runways justified, but communications could be improved

Goronwy Price says the Goose Bay Airport Corporation is reviewing how it handled the four-day closure of the facility last week. (CBC)

A week after flights finally started moving on schedule again at Goose Bay Airport, the authority that oversees the facility is reviewing what could have been handled better during last week's unusual four-day shutdown.

Flights were grounded on Tuesday, Nov. 7 after snowclearing crews noticed that material used to seal cracks in the runway was coming loose and sticking to tires.

That triggered several days of turmoil as airlines worked to reschedule flights and airport officials worked to ensure the runways were safe and figure out what happened.

The Department of National Defence said Friday that both runways had been reopened and full flight operations are resuming.

This sealant used for filling cracks on the runways at Goose Bay Airport was sticking to the tires of snowclearing equipment, triggering an airport closure on Tuesday, Nov. 7. (CBC)

"From the safety point of view I've got a good comfortable feeling," Goronwy Price, general manager of the Goose Bay Airport Corporation, told CBC's Labrador Morning

"From the communications point of view we need to review and go through those pieces and make sure if we can do it better, we [will]."

Exceptional circumstances

Looking back on the events of last week, Price said the airport was dealing with "totally and utterly exceptional circumstances" that from his knowledge has never happened before at the airport.

The Department of National Defence said Friday that both runways at the airport had reopened. (goosebayairport.com)

Because the airfield is also used by the Royal Canadian Air Force, the decision to close the runways was actually made by the Department of National Defence (DND), not the Goose Bay Airport Corporation — which is an unusual arrangement compared to most airports.

"The partnership that the civilian side and DND have is an exceptional one. We are a very unique airport," Price said. 

"Most airports have one authority that runs the airport right from the runways to the the terminals to the interaction with out airlines. In our relationship here, DND has full responsibility for the operation of the aerodrome and the airfield itself and we run the civilian side of that."

Website complaints

Price is confident that the decision to close the airport was the right one, given the information they had at the time. He said DND determined that the degree of safety risk warranted halting all planes from taking off and landing, a decision he still thinks was appropriate.

There were complaints that passengers were not properly informed by the airport, with many pointing to the lack of real-time updates on the Goose Bay Airport website, where flights were showing as on time.

PAL/Borealis Airlines scrambled to move some Goose Bay flights to Churchill Falls after the closure. (PAL Airlines)

Price sympathizes with people's frustrations, and said the authority's first priority was informing airlines about what was happening so they could deal with their customers directly.

He said the airport corporation is reviewing how the updates were handled, and said an updated website was actually nearing launch before the runway issues started.

"We do have a website that's ready to fly, and it's coming up," he said. "But in terms of this particular experience and what happened last week our primary concern is making sure our tenants and partners know what's going on."

Impact on passengers

Having flights stopped for four days created headaches for many passengers who were looking to travel in or out of Goose Bay.

One man, Roland Hewitt, was supposed to fly to St. John's for spinal surgery on Wednesday of last week but had his flight cancelled due to the closures.

Roland Hewitt was supposed to have surgery on Friday of last week, but his flight to St. John's was cancelled. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Other passengers from northern and coastal Labrador communities were also affected, and Nain Mayor Joe Dicker said the community hasn't had fresh produce delivered in three days.

He also said residents from the community who were in Goose Bay for medical appointments were, in some cases, stranded there without means to get accommodations.

"Usually the ones that go out for medical appointments, they're the ones that have no cash on hand that they might be able to avail of," Dicker said.

"If the airport is closed, they have nowhere to go. They just sit there and do nothing."

Goose Bay Airport Corporation said it has received requests for compensation from affected passengers, but is not providing any as it was the decision of DND to close the airfield, and was out of the authority's control.

With files from Labrador Morning