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Cablegate: Runway Construction Leaves Halifax Airport in the Fog

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: A series of foggy days in July caused the
cancellation or diversion of hundreds of flights to and from
Halifax International Airport and stranded thousands of
passengers, sullying the airport's once-sterling reputation for
customer service. In response, the Halifax International
Airport Authority (HIAA) recently held meetings with
stakeholders to explain the causes of the delays which include
work on the runways and Instrument Landing System (ILS). With
the airport undergoing a four-year expansion and upgrade program
the worst may be yet to come for travelers. End Summary.

2. Halifax International Airport is in the process of major
runway construction as part of a four year, C$40 million
expansion program. The airport welcomes more than three
million passengers each year. In the 2004 annual survey done by
the International Air Transport Association and co-sponsored by
the airports council, HIA landed three top-place finishes in the
customer satisfaction survey and third in best improvement of
overall satisfaction. However, as a result of poor weather
conditions (dense fog) and an inoperable ILS, the airport has
slipped in public confidence due to the significant disruption
to flights. To try to control the damage, HIAA has been more
proactive in alerting travelers to potential delays and has
arranged meetings with the airlines, regulators, associated
agencies and community leaders to brief them and receive

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3. At the beginning of May, HIAA embarked on a major five-month
airfield reconstruction program that it says is vital to the
integrity and operation of the airport, allowing the airport to
continue to meet regulatory standards and to ensure the safety
of passengers, crew, and staff. The reconstruction involves
extensive improvements to the airport's electrical and paving
work, including in-pavement and side-pavement lights. This
construction affected the airport's ILS. HIAA noted that
contrary to press claims, there are no portable ILS or other
alternative precision approach navigation aids that meet
regulatory standards available -- military ILS is not certified
in Canada for civilian aviation use.

4. HIAA, although sympathetic to its passengers, said that
there had been no way to avoid a project of this nature and
length without including the month of July, even though July and
August are two of the busiest tourism months for Nova Scotia.
Before beginning the project, a survey of weather conditions,
prevailing winds, temperature, and runway usage was conducted
and HIAA had consulted with Transport Canada for recommendations
of the best timeline for the project. Unfortunately, unusually
dense fog during the month of July has caused many, and at times
all, flights to be diverted to Moncton or cancelled.

5. HIAA argued that before commencing the project, it met with
many of the major players potentially impacted by the
construction of the runways, including media, airlines, and
travel agents. While HIAA expressed sympathy for the public and
agreed that it should take responsibility for the impact the
delay has had on passengers and airlines, it also stated that
accountability must also come from the airlines, media, and
travel agents. HIAA has now put in a communications plan to
publish daily travel/weather advisories on its website, which
also contains information on the reconstruction of the airport
along with frequently asked questions about the reconstruction
program. Further, HIAA will meet regularly with the airlines
and work with them in putting together a contingency plan for
any future diverted flights due to inclement weather. HIAA also
plans to meet with Transport Canada and NavCanada with respect
to the remaining phases of the construction, to examine any
options for more flexibility in the system to allow them to
respond to potential weather impacts. One of the two runways
reopened July 14, 2005, temporarily shortened in length, but
with a fully operational navigational system in service. HIAA
expressed optimism that operations would be back to normal by
early October. HIAA reinforced that there number one priority
is the safety of passengers.

6. Comment: While the consensus of the attendees at the HIAA
briefing was that more should have been done to make the public
aware of the reconstruction of the runways and the potential
effect it could have on travelers, there was no way that HIAA
could have anticipated the severity of the weather. The
question of who had the responsibility for advising airline
travelers of the possible disruption of flights was left
unanswered. In the end, attendees from the travel industry,
airlines, and government offices all agreed that the runway
reconstruction was much needed.


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