North

N.W.T. explores five options for future of the Yellowknife airport

The government of the Northwest Territories is considering retail and hotel space near the Yellowknife airport — but with five different options on the table, the plan for the airport’s future is not yet clear.

The Department of Infrastructure says the territory is on track to outgrow the current airport building

The Yellowknife Airport on Aug. 31, 2021. The government of the Northwest Territories is looking at options to add retail and hotel space near the Yellowknife airport. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

The government of the Northwest Territories is considering retail and hotel space near the Yellowknife airport — but with five different options on the table, the plan for the airport's future is not yet clear. 

On Thursday, Minister of Infrastructure Diane Archie told the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment that expanding what's available at and near the airport would be good for the tourism sector and others in the territory. 

"As we recover from the impacts of COVID-19, the developments at the Yellowknife airport will create new opportunities to grow the northern economy, create jobs, and attract businesses and visitors," she said. 

Archie said the planning process is an important part of "modernizing airport infrastructure," a relevant concern as the air terminal building was built in 1967. Its most recent addition was made in 2005. 

According to the Department of Infrastructure, the territory is on track to outgrow the Yellowknife airport's terminal building and facilities, but it didn't specify when.

Five options

Committee members heard five possible options for what airport development could look like — all of which include more retail and hotel space by the airport. 

The government could choose to redevelop the existing terminal location, reclaim existing leases and redevelop the north area, develop the south and west areas, or develop the south area and add more retail options. 

Every option is meant to maximize the airport's economic impact. 

Questioning the rationale

But not all committee members were on board.

Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, questioned the rationale behind the current airport development plan. 

"We don't need a hotel at the airport," said Johnson. "Downtown is 10 minutes away. I don't believe we need retail spaces at the airport. We have a downtown with a bunch of vacant commercial space.

"I don't know why the the [government of the N.W.T.] would get into the business of competing with a town that is struggling in that area."

Also, potential challenges have already been raised regarding many of these options, including distance from existing infrastructure and the expense of the work.

However, some of the plans also take advantage of proximity to roads and the highway, and would mean more space for terminal operations to grow if and when that becomes needed.

The territorial government has spent close to $400,000 on airport planning studies since 2018.

Public engagement sessions about the future of the airport are planned for later this month. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the meeting of the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment occurred on Friday. In fact it occurred on Thursday.
    Apr 04, 2022 8:16 AM CT

With files from Walter Strong

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