Workers at the Northwest Regional Airport were busy last week building forms in which concrete will be poured for walls as a $16.4 million expansion and renovation project gradually begins to take shape.
One wall of more than 24 feet in height is already up for the expansion which will branch out from the current security and passenger hold area side of the main terminal building.
A substantial portion of the terminal building is to be renovated as well with the goal of expanding the passenger hold area and providing a more efficient way for outgoing passengers to board aircraft.
The airport has tagged late 2017 for the completion of the project which is being partially financed by a $4.4 million grant from the federal and provincial governments.
A further $250,000 has been received from the Northern Development Initiative Trust, which assists in infrastructure construction, and the remainder of the money is coming from a fee of $7 being charged for every outgoing passenger, says airport general manager Carman Hendry.
“As soon as the debt is paid off, that fee will disappear,” said Hendry in estimating that will take between seven to 10 years.
The expansion and renovation should be sufficient for the airport’s passenger needs for the next 20 years, he said.
And in the planning of what should take place, the emphasis has been on the departing passenger.
“That’s the passenger who is in our terminal the longest. The one who we want to have a bite to eat, to use some of our services, to be comfortable. Departing can be stressful. The arriving passenger is just here long enough to pick up their luggage and leave,” said Hendry.
With that in mind, the emphasis is on having the departing passenger take as few steps as possible to check in themselves and their luggage.
The current combined baggage and passenger security screening area will be done away with in favour of a separate luggage drop off and separate passenger screening areas.
That will make both actitivies more efficient and make passenger screening flow quicker, said Hendry.
And while there has been no clearance yet to construct two passenger screening lines, provision is being made to add a second when it does become necessary, he added.
“The existing hold room will also be gutted and renovated and expanded and more washroom capacity added,” Hendry continued.
The existing room contains 80 seats and there’s an overall capacity, with people standing, of 121 passengers.
The new one will have 220 seats and enough space for a combined seated and standing capacity of 350 people.
Space will be made for the larger hold room by taking up the current board room area and moving the board room across the terminal building.
“The current hold room was built in 2005. What we really want to do now is have one of a size as called for in our master plan [so] that we don’t have to do this again for 20 years,” said Hendry.
He’s particularly happy with how departing passengers will exit the hold room to board their aircraft.
Instead of the one small counter at which an airline employee now checks boarding passes and IDs, there will be three and the counters will be large enough so that two employees can process two lines of passengers.
Passengers will then enter a corridor running the length of the hold room and exit directly to their aircraft through one of three exits.
“They’ll be exposed to the elements as little as possible,” said Hendry.
And should there be two or more flights boarding within a short time of each other or at the same time, separate exits will help eliminate confusion about where to go.
Hendry said the expansion is geared soley to meet community needs and that any passenger surge from large scale industrial projects will be handled by those projects providing their own terminal facilities.
If there’s lots of work going on at the main terminal building, the airport society also has plans for its recently-enlarged longer term parking lot.
It’s expecting to install a ticket system so that a ticket is dispensed to someone arriving and who then pays when leaving based on the time their vehicle has been parked.
The society also wants to make improvements to its septic tank system which is at capacity and wants to increase its water infrastructure as well, said Hendry.