Nfld. & Labrador

'Very frustrated': Passengers stranded as Goose Bay runways remain closed

Experts to inspect runways and meet with airport officials before decision to reopen airfield is made.

Decision to cancel flights came after snowclearing crews found runway sealant sticking to vehicle tires

Roland Hewitt is supposed to have surgery on Friday, but cancelled flights out of Goose Bay have left him scrambling to find a way to St. John's. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The runways at the Goose Bay airport are still closed Wednesday and could be for another 24 hours, after the call was made Tuesday evening to halt all fixed wing aircraft from landing or taking off.

The decision came after snowclearing crews noticed sealant used in cracks on the runway was coming off and sticking to their tires. Ground crews at the airfield were working throughout the night to remove the problematic material.

"At this point, they have been able to remove quite a large amount of the sealants," said Maj. Sonya Scanlon-Simms, logistics and engineering officer with 5 Wing Goose Bay.

"So right now we're just waiting for the experts to make an assessment to recommend where we go from here."

Maj. Sonya Scanlon-Simms says crews have been able to remove a large amount of the problematic sealant. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The experts are coming from Winnipeg and are expected to arrive Wednesday night. Since they can't fly into Goose Bay, they had to go to another airport and then drive to the town.

"They're coming so they can try and decide what did happen differently this year and why it's coming loose as opposed to other years," she said.

With the runway closed and flights being cancelled, many passengers are left stranded. Roland Hewitt was supposed to leave Goose Bay Wednesday night to travel to St. John's. He is due to have spinal surgery on Friday and is expected at the hospital Thursday for pre-op.

"If it wasn't for the distance, I'd drive. But, again, medically I shouldn't even be in a position where I would be travelling on the roads. So, a very difficult position to be in," he said.

"We're in an isolated area and [I'm] very frustrated, I guess, knowing that this is the only means to get to the island, and that means is now cut off for us."

Crews noticed sealant used to fill cracks on the runway was coming loose and sticking to their tires. (

Lt. Trevor Ackland of 5 Wing Goose Bay said a decision on reopening the runways will be made after the experts report what they find. 

In an update to media Wednesday afternoon, the Canadian Armed Forces said passengers should be prepared for another 24-hour closure of the runways.

Safety top priority

Ackland said the decision to shut it down was not made lightly, but after the sealant was found on the snowclearing tires all stakeholders had a discussion and decided it was in the best interest of safety to stop flights from landing or taking off, until they knew what was happening and the risk it posed.

"It became a concern that if this is happening to our snowclearing equipment that it might possibly happen to aircraft landing or taking off," he told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the sealant has failed in this way. It does peel up and come out of the cracks as vehicles and aircraft take off and land all of the time, but it's never been a problem where its tacky and sticks to a tire."

PAL/Borealis Airlines has cancelled all daytime flights in and out of Goose Bay airport. (PAL Airlines)

Ground crews have conducted more than 1,000 passes over the worst areas of the tarmac to try and find problematic sealant, according to a release from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Helicopters are still allowed to land and take off from the airport, and it is handling emergency flights on a case-by-case basis.

Impact on airlines

With the shutdown, Air Canada and PAL/Borealis Airlines said they are monitoring the situation closely.

PAL/Borealis told CBC that it has cancelled all daytime flights in and out of Goose Bay for Wednesday, and that all affected passengers have been notified.

"We are working closely with the airport to understand when operations will be permitted to resume," the email read.

"We are preparing our operations for the resumption of flights so that we can provide the necessary capacity for the timely delivery of passenger and goods throughout our network."

With files from Labrador Morning and Katie Breen