A crowd of more than 50 people gathered at the Northwest Regional Airport to celebrate the grand opening today, June 16.
A crowd of more than 50 people gathered at the Northwest Regional Airport today to celebrate the grand opening of the first phase of its terminal expansion.
The plywood that’s been covering up construction activity is gone and final touches were in place for the grand opening, complete with a celebration with fire truck rides, a baggage toss, food, speeches and cupcakes.
Inside the building, natural light from skylights and from a broad expanse of windows overlooking the runway now floods through the building, adding to the feeling of spaciousness that marks the $18.6 million project.
First announced in 2015 with a boost of $4.5 million each from the federal and provincial governments, departing passengers now have the comfort of a much larger hold room — with washrooms and a refreshment stand — as well as a new check in area, baggage check in and screening room.
It’s all designed to be as less stressful as possible for departing passengers, notes airport manager Carman Hendry who, along with airport project manager Dave Kumpolt, have watched the project take shape ever since it was first proposed in a master plan released in 2014.
“Passengers already have enough to worry about,” said Hendry. “We want their experience to go as smoothly as possible.”
That means a large check in area, a short walk then to deposit luggage and a more comfortable and efficient passenger screening area that can process upwards of 120 people an hour. There’s even enough space to double the passenger screening area as demand increases.
Once through screening, passengers now have a comfortable hold room, well equipped for more than 250 people at a time. And each seat has a charging station for smartphones and other electronic devices.
“That’s one of the nice features — a plug in at every seat,” said Kumpolt.
When a flight is called, passengers will exit the hold room, walking along a covered passageway directly looking out to the runway and through one of three gates to their waiting aircraft.
“It’s heated,” said Kumpolt with a grin of the passageway floor during a recent tour. That makes for a more comfortable exit during colder weather.
As well, once outside, passengers are now only steps away from their aircraft, something that minimizes dealing with inclement weather.
“And that was one of the things we wanted — for passengers to see out onto the apron and for them to be out of the weather as much as possible,” said Hendry.
The addition to the terminal is 1,594 square metres — that’s the baggage check in and passenger check in section — and the renovated space is 1,194 square metres, making for a building that’s now 40 per cent larger.
Other improvements feature a board room that can be rented out and several rooms which can also be rented out for people who need a work space even if just for a day.
“Someone can now fly in and do all of their business here and fly back out the same day,” said Hendry.
And for those who might appreciate a place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of departing and arriving passeners, the former departures entrance is being turned into a quiet lounge area.
“This is for the next 20 years,” said Hendry of the project which took more than a year longer than expected to complete and at a price tag larger than first anticipated.
He and Kumpolt emphasize that the terminal building capacity is designed to meet organic growth for the coming decades and was not built to handle traffic that would arise should potential large industrial projects ever take hold.
“It’s in the order of 3 per cent,” said Kumpolt of anticipated annual passenger growth.
“That was a decision of the [airport society] board. We’re not building for any big construction bubble. We have a master plan and we’re sticking to that master plan,” added Hendry of the terminal plan.
But he does acknowledge the prospect of large projects will make for a busier airport overall.
Some of the impact will be cushioned by a plan to have companies building those large projects construct their own terminals, Hendry added.
Aside from the $9 million from the federal governments, the Northern Development Initiative Trust chipped in $250,000 and a $7 passenger airport improvement fee will cover the remainder of the $18.4 million project expense.
Hendry estimates it will take up to 10 years for the airport to pay for its share of the project.
Although this project is now finished, there’s more work contemplated in the years ahead with the 2014 master plan calling for improvements to the arrivals area and improvements to the airport’s water and sewage treatment infrastructure.
Once operated by the federal government, the airport was turned over to a non-profit society in 1999 consisting of the City of Terrace, the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce, the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce, and the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine.
Since 1999, Hendry estimates $45 million has been spent on improvements of one kind or another.