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Thunder Bay Airport runway project disrupts some flights

The only available runway can't be used in certain weather conditions
airport runway project two
Work continued on June 15, 2022 on a $20 million project to rehabilitate the main runway at Thunder Bay Airport (Vasilios Bellos/TBTV photo)

THUNDER BAY — The prolonged shutdown of the primary runway at Thunder Bay Airport during construction is unavoidably causing plenty of inconvenience for airlines and passengers from time to time.

While extensive runway improvements are underway, flights may be cancelled, diverted or delayed whenever weather conditions prevent safe landings at the airport's secondary runway.

That was the case on Monday this week when numerous flights were affected.

North Star Air president and chief operating officer Jeff Stout says no fewer than four of his company's flights were diverted to Dryden or Sioux Lookout.

"They had to wait for the weather to get better. So it's caused some pretty big inconveniences and extra costs to the airline and our customers as a result of the reduced reliability to be able to get in."

Stout feels the airport administration is doing the best it can under the circumstances.

"I think summertime is the best time to do this work. You've just gotta roll with the punches."

Aside from Flair Airlines – which uses Boeing 737 jets and had to put its service to Toronto on hold until the fall – airlines can use the alternate runway with their smaller aircraft, weather permitting.

There will be disruptions, however, when there's low cloud cover, poor visibility, or unfavourable winds.

The primary runway has a navigation system that allows aircraft to land at night or in bad weather, when the cloud ceiling is as low as 200 feet and visibility is as short as half a mile.

The alternate runway does not have this system and requires a minimum cloud ceiling of 500 feet and visibility of 1 3/4 miles. Unfavourable wind conditions may also affect the use of this runway.

According to Porter Airlines, since the closure of the main runway at the beginning of May, about half a dozen of its flights to Thunder Bay have been cancelled or diverted as a result of the construction project.

A Porter spokesperson told TBnewswatch this is the kind of capital project that's not uncommon at airports, and cited Montreal as an example where similar work is currently influencing airline operations.

"When this happens, it's important that we have clear information from airports in order to plan schedules and other logistics. We do have this collaboration with YQT," he said.

Weather conditions, nonetheless, are unpredictable and variable.

"Nobody can control the weather, and we're certainly hoping for drier weather this summer," Thunder Bay Airport CEO Ed Schmidtke said in an interview Wednesday.

Schmidtke said there are going to be inconveniences and operational changes with any major construction project. 

"We have seen some flights miss. Whether they would have missed on the primary runway, I don't know, I don't have those details, but we did consult with all the airlines a year in advance to make sure everybody knew, and we're working very hard with our contractor and our engineers to find every efficiency possible to open the runway as soon as we can."

Schmidtke currently expects that to be sometime in early October. 

The last time the primary runway was rebuilt was in 2005, but at that time much of the work was done at night, minimizing the disruption to flights.

"That project was a significantly smaller scope and in a different regulatory environment than we find ourselves in today. The approach taken then simply isn't available to us now," Schmidtke said.

He added "We're doing it at the same time as Montreal and Pearson are also doing similar runway reconstructions, and collaboration with our key airline partners is essential so that everybody's aware and does the best they can for the travelling public."

Schmidtke concluded "We're hoping for a dry summer going forward. High ceilings are good."


Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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