Nunavut's airports have major infrastructure deficits, according to a 20-year infrastructure needs assessment tabled in the Nunavut legislative assembly on March 11.

The document, assembled in 2014 but not tabled until this month, identifies $462 million worth of necessary improvements. They include at least three new airports, as many as five new terminal buildings, eight new maintenance hangars, a laundry list of maintenance equipment, and myriad runway expansion and repair projects.

"We are limited with the payloads we are able to fly in and out of certain airports," said First Air's vice-president of commercial Bert van der Stege.

"We face additional costs as a result of gravel runways [and] cancellations or flight delays as a result of deficiencies in infrastructure," he said.

Those expenses, van der Stege said, are ultimately passed on to passengers which is why First Air welcomes the needs assessment. He said if the Government of Nunavut follows the assessment's recommendations it will lead to cheaper and safer air travel.

Too many projects, not enough money

"It would be nice to have longer runways everywhere and paved runways everywhere," said Craig Hoffman, vice-president of operations for Calm Air. "But the economic feasibility of that is pretty difficult, as you can see it's hard for [the GN] to just keep their head above water as opposed to doing expansions."

Faced with this long list of needs, Jim Stevens, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Transportation, said the government's priority is to ensure that runways are safe. He said the needs assessment is intended as a planning document.

The assessment rated the condition of eight of Nunavut's 23 gravel runways as "poor" and flagged them as a high priority for repair. Of those, repairs for Hall Beach and Clyde River are moving forward. Stevens said his department is also helping hamlets prepare applications to a federal fund for airport infrastructure.

Other recommendations from the assessment have already been met, such as the purchase of a long list of maintenance equipment including more than $1.2 million in new heavy equipment for Arivat, Hall Beach and Baker Lake.

Some projects underway

As for new buildings, Stevens said designs for a new terminal in Taloyoak are complete and the $4-million project will go to tender next month.

A new air strip in Kimmirut is also in the works, with the community endorsing the location of a new runway and terminal last summer. Stevens said the project is still in early stages and will require climatology and geotechnical studies before they can produce a conceptual design.

Plans for a new Pangnirtung airport are at a more advanced stage, with preliminary engineering work having already begun for both the road to the new airstrip and runway itself.

"We will probably have a very detailed cost estimate in the next year for legislative assembly approval," he said.