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10 Yellowknife airport upgrades the N.W.T. gov't wants to get off the ground

The N.W.T.'s Department of Transportation has offered more details on what upgrades to the Yellowknife airport it would like to fund using new or increased fees.

Pitches range from more power outlets in waiting areas to non-stop flights from Vancouver

The N.W.T. government wants to improve check-in and security times, expand its post-security area, add direct flights to Vancouver and make other upgrades to the Yellowknife airport. (GNWT)

In advance of the official pitch the N.W.T. government will make to MLAs reconvening in the legislative assembly this week, officials have fleshed out just what upgrades they in mind for the Yellowknife airport. 

Last June, when the territorial government unveiled its 2016-2017 budget, it also began to tout a long-gestating plan to introduce new fees and transform the Yellowknife airport into, if not a cash cow, then at least an operation that makes enough money to fully cover its costs — including a line of planned upgrades.

Details about said upgrades were scant at the time, and while Russell Neudorf, the deputy minister of Transportation, offered some tantalizing hints to Yellowknife city councillors last month, a full picture of the plan remained elusive — until now.

Here are 10 of the upgrades pitched by Michael Conway, the department's North Slave regional superintendent on Tuesday.

1. More parking

The airport has roughly 100 public parking spots. (Another 100 are reserved for airport employees.) The department would like to increase the number of public spots by 15 to 20 per cent.

No decision has been made on whether parking rates will go up, though a meter system is being considered.

2. Parking for miners 

As early as this December, the department would like to expand a parking lot located down the street from the airport, on a Bristol Avenue lot facing Braden-Burry Expediting. 

Michael Conway, the N.W.T. Department of Transportation's North Slave regional superintendent, gave a briefing on Yellowknife airport upgrades Tuesday at the legislative assembly. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The lot currently has 135 energized spaces but the government would like to add another 15 spaces and make the lot available to groups such as workers at remote diamond mines, who fly out of the airport to work two-week rotations.

A shuttle would transport people to the airport.

3. A bigger post-security area, possibly moved upstairs

"Right now the whole room is very small," says Conway of the current space, which could be moved to the upper floor of the airport (after some of the offices currently taking up space there were moved). 

"One of the things that we hear from passengers is, once they get through security, there's nothing."

Which leads us to…

4. Post-security food and shopping options

"In most airports, that's where you can get something to eat and you can relax and there's other things that you can do," says Conway.

"We don't have any shopping in our location."

Not to mention...

A 15 to 20 per cent increase in parking stalls is being planned. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

5. More power outlets and permanent Wi-Fi

Conway wants to end the battle among iPad- and smartphone-toting passengers for the precious few power outlets in the waiting area.

And while the airport has had Wi-Fi available on and off in the past, a permanent hot spot is being eyed.

6. Plane bridges

You know what I'm talking about: those enclosed corridors taking passengers from their gate to the inside of the plane. An expanded waiting area would allow for those too, said Conway.

7. Common use terminals

Basically self-service kiosks for passengers. A holdover from Neudorf's September council, but worth repeating here because Conway linked it to the government's wish to speed up check-in times.

8. Shorter security lines 

About this Conway offered the fewest details, only acknowledging that security at the airport is run by the federally-owned Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, and that all the N.W.T. government does is lease the space to CATSA.

A portion of a pamphlet the government has produced to promote its airport plan. (GNWT)

9. Non-stop flights from Vancouver

Yellowknife, while experiencing a healthy boost in aurora tourism in the last year, is nevertheless still losing Asian tourists to rival aurora hot spot Whitehorse, says Conway. The reason? The lack of a non-stop flight, which means that people headed to Yellowknife through Vancouver have to connect in Edmonton or Calgary.

10. Shorter de-icing delays

Conway said the reason de-icing can delay a flight's departure for so long is because the de-icing facilities are located where planes are loaded, as opposed to where planes line up before takeoff. Switching locations would help shorten the delays.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips and ideas welcomed at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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