Nova Scotia

Booming seafood exports leads to $36M cargo expansion at Halifax airport

The new cargo handling facilities will aim to improve transport efficiency and reduce bottlenecks in the air cargo supply chain, a frequent complaint of lobster exporters.

Province will also kick in $5 million on project

Transport Minister Marc Garneau in Halifax on Nov. 15, 2018, to announce federal funding to upgrade cargo facilities at Halifax airport. (Paul Withers/CBC)

Construction will begin within six months on a new $36-million cargo handling facility to ease the freight bottleneck at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport — another sign of the growing volume and importance of fresh seafood exports from Nova Scotia, especially lobster to China.

The project was announced Thursday in Halifax by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

"Whatever seafoods are sent to places like China and Europe, you have to do it fast and efficiently and I think this air cargo logistics park is exactly what is required," Garneau said.

The money and the project

The federal government will spend $18 million through the national trade corridors fund, while the Halifax International Airport Authority will contribute $13 million. The province has pledged $5 million.

The project will include a new cargo building, new taxiways and an expansion of de-icing facilities on 10 hectares of forest land adjacent to the existing Gateway cargo facility.   

Why it's needed

Lobster exporters have complained for years about the bottleneck of moving product out of Stanfield.

The result of cargo planes tending to arrive at the same time — at night — and not enough storage space. Airport CEO Joyce Carter said the expansion will address the problem.

"The additional facilities will allow us to receive more product in advance of the flights coming in, to be able to store the product on site until they arrive, and the infrastructure to get them loaded and back into the air as quickly as possible," Carter told CBC News.

"This is a huge announcement."

Halifax airport gets a second chance

The airport expansion project was initially rejected for funding under the national trade corridors fund in April.

Carter said the airport was later debriefed by Transport Canada and made an unsolicited second bid, which was accepted.

"We learned from that debrief things we could have done differently," she said, adding the changes in the second bid were relatively small.

Still to be decided

Carter said the size of expanded refrigeration capacity has not been determined. The airport currently has 7,000 square feet of refrigeration.

The new cargo building will be larger and tenants will compete for longer term leases.

In 2017, 10,000 tonnes of seafood worth $220 million was flown out of the airport, accounting for half the value of all export flights.

Halifax Port shut out 

While Thursday's announcement was a happy ending for the airport, the Port of Halifax remains shut out of funding from the 11-year, $2-billion program, which has so far doled out $800 million.

The port's application for federal funding toward a $400-million expansion was rejected while more than $300 million has gone to rival ports like Montreal and Vancouver.

Garneau said projects were approved based on merit and the Port of Halifax is free to apply for funding under the second round.

He declined to say why Halifax was rejected.

Garneau did say the 350 applications received in the first round were assessed based on how a project would address bottlenecks, how it would make trade corridors more fluid and whether co-funding was lined up.

"Those are the factors we look at," he said.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.


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