THUNDER BAY – The multi-million dollar facelift of the Thunder Bay International Airport is nearing completion.
Airport officials on Wednesday provided a tour to update the expansion of the domestic departure lounge and new customs hall area, with those renovations expected to be completed in the following months.
“What these projects do for us is they give us the flexibility to accommodate additional growth and they give us the flexibility to accommodate changes in the aviation system,” airport president and chief executive officer Ed Schmidtke said.
“If for any reason, although there are none forecasted, that larger aircraft start coming into the market our ability to accommodate that airline while we accommodate other airlines concurrently is just so much easier to do and so much more flexible without any imposition on the passenger.”
The overhaul, which will increase the size of secure departure lounge area by 55 per cent, has an expected price tag in the neighbourhood of $9 million and includes $5 million announced by the previous Liberal provincial government through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.
While there have been a couple of small projects since the terminal building opened in 1994, there have not been substantial redesigns.
“Passenger traffic is almost double where it was in July 1994,” Schmidtke said. “It was time to create some space in strategic locations, primarily driven by the domestic departure lounge.”
The work on the secure departure area is expected to be complete in December, in time for the busy holiday season.
Aside from the renovations, other enhancements include investments in common use IT technologies that keep airlines from having to be anchored to specific gates.
“It’s one of those behind the scenes things that adds capacity without having to build a bigger building,” Schmidtke said. “If schedules change, if aircraft sizes change, whatever those changes are, we’re now able to react far more seamlessly from aircraft stand to aircraft stand.”
The scope of the project also includes an addition onto the south side of the building to improve flow for international travellers.
“The primary reason for all the work was to expand the secure departure lounge,” Schmidtke said.
“When we went through all the variables, all the alternatives available to us with the architects, it became clear that if we also wanted to expand the customs hall we would have to do so outside the footprint of the existing building.”
The customs hall is expected to be substantially complete by the time direct service to warmer climates begins next month, Schmidtke said, adding there are currently about 5,000 passengers annually using the airport to go straight to those international destinations.
“We continue to work on attracting more airlines to do more work through here,” Schmidtke said.
People visiting the airport will get their first glimpse of a revamp when they enter through one of the three vestibules on the main floor, which will be outfitted with cedar wood and stone finishes that Schmidtke said is meant to reflect the area the airport calls home.
“Just like you might want to redress or upgrade your front door at home, it was time for Thunder Bay to do that at its airport,” Schmidtke said.
“Hearing the feedback that we’re in the Canadian Shield, we want some rocks and trees.”
Schmidtke said remaining work in the departure lounge includes a food and beverage service area, which includes a liquor licence application on the pre-boarding side of security. There are three other features of note that Schmidtke wouldn’t immediately disclose that he said would be announced shortly.