The St. John's International Airport Authority says its new runway landing system has been completed on budget, and three months ahead of schedule.

"Other than the travelling public, the greatest beneficiary of the system is the economy," said the CEO of the airport authority Keith Collins at a ceremony Thursday to mark the occasion.

Officially, it's called the Airfield Accessibility and Safety Initiative — a $37.3-million job that's meant to reverse the airport's reputation for being inaccessible in the foggy season.

Over the past three years, a CAT III instrument landing system was installed, new LED lights were put on the runways and along the apron of the terminal building, and newer, taller approach towers were erected at both ends of the primary runway.

"The captains, they don't land based on what they see with their eyes, they land based entirely on instruments," said Collins.

"I'm sure they won't like me saying this but it's like a video game. You're looking at a screen, and the technology guides the aircraft to the centre of the runway." 

The airport authority said 99 per cent of airplanes will now be able to land when visibility is poor, allowing an estimated 700 more flights and 70,000 to arrive and depart annually.

St. John's airport

The airport authority says the three year project was completed on budget and ahead of schedule. (CBC)

Heavy snow and strong northerly crosswinds can still delay flights, but Collins said fog has been the biggest reason for delays, diversions and cancellations in the past. 

'Modest growth' predicted

Traffic is down at the airport, Collins admitted, for the first time in about a dozen years.

"We were down about four per cent over 2014. A lot of that is due to private charter traffic to northern Alberta, as tradespeople are no longer required," said Collins.

"We had some decline in our scheduled commercial traffic. We had the convention centre closed for all of this year in St. John's, as well."

Keith Collins

The CEO of the airport authority, Keith Collins, expects a modest growth in passenger traffic in 2016. (CBC)

Collins said the airport is predicting a modest growth in 2016, with the low Canadian dollar bringing both Canadians and Americans to tourism destinations like St. John's.

He said it will be easier to promote the airport to major airlines because of the new landing system.

In the meantime, work is underway to double the size of the airport terminal, a project that will continue until 2018.

"We are seeing a major increase in inquiries from the U.S. for travel," said Cathy Duke, CEO of Destination St. John's.

"The other thing is with our three new direct flights to Europe, we have begun marketing in the U.K. and Ireland."

Three groups have made bookings, after a recent trade show in Dublin, she said.