Stephenville airport to keep key role as emergency landing site thanks to technology upgrade

Stephenville airport is getting a much needed update from NavCanada to remain a top choice for emergency landings in the province.

Instrument landing system was reaching the end of its life cycle

An American Airlines Boeing 777 made an emergency landing at Stephenville Airport in October after the pilot noticed a cracked windshield. (Courtesy Sammie White)

The Stephenville airport is getting $1 million worth of updated equipment that will keep it in the business of being an emergency or alternate landing site for transatlantic flights.

"Very few people understand the importance of Stephenville's airport," said Brenda Martin, the manager of the facility.

The seven-figure financial boost comes from Nav Canada, which was considering whether the aging instrument landing system should be upgraded.

The agency recently held consultations on the issue and was told the location plays a crucial role, despite not getting a lot of traffic compared with other sites like Gander and St. John's.

"There's no question that Nav Canada recognizes the importance of Stephenville Airport as an essential emergency service to all aircraft travelling between North America and Europe," said Martin. 

Fortuitous timing

She said favourable weather patterns and the size of its landing space are some of the key reasons Stephenville is a preferred alternate landing site, compared with other airports in the province, such as Deer Lake and Gander. 

Martin noted an emergency landing by an American Airlines jet with 307 people onboard in October highlighted the airport's capabilities.

The Boeing 777, which was en route from Milan, Italy, to Miami, landed safely after the pilot noticed a cracked windshield.

She said it was business as usual for the airport during the landing, which happened right around the time Nav Canada was wrapping up its consultations.

The updates to the instrument landing system are expected to be completed over the summer. 

About the Author

Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore recently moved from Corner Brook, NL to join the CBC team in Fredericton. He's an associate producer with Information Morning.

With files from Lisa Gushue