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A major expansion at the Saskatoon Airport begins next year. (Google)

Starting next year, the Saskatoon Airport will embark on an $85-million, decade-long upgrade, officials said Wednesday.

The expansion has long been in the planning stages, but the timing has been moved ahead four years in response to growing numbers of passengers, reporters were told at a news conference.

Airport manager Bill Restall said despite the recession, passenger volumes in Saskatoon went up six per cent last year.

"It is just a tremendous, tremendous opportunity for us to do this. Three or four years earlier than what I would have thought we were going to do it," he said. "But it's the right thing for us to do."

The improvement project will start with a major addition to the back side of the terminal building.

A pier-shaped extension will provide more spots for aircraft to pull up to, more space for passenger gates and boarding areas and places for travelers to shop, eat and drink after they get through security.

"It will give us the flexibility. It will give us the customer service. It will give us the amenities that we as a community want," Restall said.

Later phases of the expansion will include additional parking and more work on the runways. Another goal, Restall said, is to start direct service to Europe.