Private/Public Partnership Building New Terminal at Iqaluit Int'l

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Located in the unforgiving Canadian Arctic on Baffin Island, Iqaluit International Airport (YFB) is literally a lifeline to residents of Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory. As such, a private/public partnership has been established to develop a new terminal and airfield to meet the current and future needs of the region. Nunavut officials estimate improvements at $250 million to $300 million.

YFB’s 20,000+ annual operations serve needs that are both diverse and critical. Because of its location at the intersection of the High Atlantic and Polar air routes, the currently government-owned airport serves a strategic role in both military and civilian aviation.


Project: New Terminal; Support Services Building; Airfield Improvements
Location: Iqaluit Int’l Airport (Nunavut, Canada)
Terminal: 10,000 sq. meters
Maintenance Building/Fire Hall: 45,000 sq. meters
Runway & Apron Improvements: 400,000 sq. meters
Development Mechanism: Public/Private Partnership
Contract Term: 30 yrs.
Owner: Government of Nunavut
Private Consortium: Arctic Infrastructure Partners, comprised of Bouygues Building Canada; InfraRed Capital Partners Limited; Sintra; & Winnipeg Airports Authority
Operations & Maintenance: Nunavut Airport Services, a subsidiary of Winnipeg Airports Authority
Design: Stantec
Construction: JV BBV-Sintra
Geotechnical: EBA
Snow & Wind Modeling: RWDI

On the local side, YFB is the only all-season transportation link for Nunavut, a territory of 25 communities spread over 2 million square kilometers, with no roads connecting them. On a broader scale, the airport is also important for trans-Atlantic air navigation, wide-body medical diversions, North American air defense, search and rescue operations, and resupply/support to North Warning System, Canadian Forces Station Alert and Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. Additionally, the International Civil Aviation Organization and Transport Canada have designated YFB as an international alternate use airport (refueling only), and it is a designated port of entry under the Canada Customs Act.

Private/Public Partnership

Improvements at YFB are being designed, financed and operated under a private/public partnership. On the public side, the project is partially funded by PPP Canada, a federal Crown corporation. The government of Nunavut selected the private partner, via a request for proposals process. It contracted Arctic Infrastructure Partners to finance, design and build the project, as well as operate and maintain the airport for 30 years. Arctic Partners is consortium of Bouygues Building Canada, InfraRed Capital Partners Limited, Sintra and the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA).

Currently, YFB is operated by Iqaluit International Airport Division, Department of Economic Development and Transportation. But on July 21, 2014, Nunavut Airport Services, a subsidiary of WAA, will take over day-to-day operations and maintenance. 

“Strategically, it’s a great fit for us,” says Michael O’Gorman, vice president of operations at WAA. Winnipeg International has direct flights to YFB and recently completed its own terminal improvement program.

P3 projects are attractive to governments for several reasons, including cost certainties, schedule certainty and value for money, explains Stanis Smith, senior vice president at Stantec, the architectural firm for the project. The P3 process also encourages innovation, adds Smith. 

A 2010 feasibility study performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated that the airport was appropriate for P3, notes Noel Best, principal at Stantec.

Improvements at YFB will include three main components: a new terminal building; a new combined services building to house maintenance and the fire hall; and runway and apron improvements, including a new taxiway and the resurfacing of the runway.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring, with the new facility becoming operational for the public in August 2017. According to Best, it was important for the government to have a very clean transfer of operational responsibilities. “They felt it would be better if the consortium was actually running the existing airport and was responsible wholly for the transfer, rather than having the new start-up day also being the transfer day,” he explains.

Arctic Logistics

With construction beginning this spring, planning, coordination and pre-construction work have been underway for a long time. Nunavut’s extreme climate not only limits the construction season to four or five months, at the most; it also complicates logistics, because the local bay is frozen for about eight months of the year. 

“Everything has to come in by ship; and if you miss a shipment, you have to fly parts in at great expense,” Best says. “The preplanning for getting material up there is a major part of both the design of the building and the construction. Right now, there is material that has been shipped up already for this project, and we have to accelerate all of our steel design so that it is complete within the next two months so we can do the shop drawings and have all that steel constructed down south and on a boat before the freeze-up next fall.”

As soon as construction crews are able, likely in April, the steel will be erected in an all-out effort to beat the next freeze.

The Arctic weather also affected the facility’s design at an elemental level. Because the terminal would be built on permafrost, it was crucial for Stantec to ensure that heat would not escape from the building and cause settlement problems by thawing the permafrost. To combat this, designers employed a thermosiphon system — a passive series of looped pipes that disperses heat radiating from the building away from the structure itself, so the ground below the system of pipes remains frozen at all times. “We’re actually cooling the ground,” remarks Best.

Improvements at Iqaluit

YFB’s new terminal, which will be built on a Greenfield site, is slated to be just shy of 10,000 square meters — three times the size of the existing facility. The air traffic control tower will remain on the existing terminal building, but the building itself will be repurposed. According to Best, the existing terminal is in “fine shape” but is too small for the airport’s operational needs. “[The government] wanted an airport terminal building which would meet the demand over the term of the contract, which is 30 years,” he says.

Best notes that there were three “guiding principles” behind the design of YFB’s new terminal: to leverage new technologies and systems; to be responsive to the extreme local environment; and to make it culturally sensitive and appropriate to the region.

The referential design presented by the government for the bid process was a two-level concept. Even though the airport authority could not afford bridges at the time, it wanted the new terminal to be capable of accommodating boarding bridges at a later date.

Drawing on experience from a previous project, Stantec specified ground loading bridges instead of a conventional bridge that transfers passengers from a second floor down to the aircraft — thus, changing the design of the passenger portion of the terminal from a two-level to a single-level layout. In so doing, the walking distance for passengers is cut in half and the need for escalators/elevators is eliminated, explains Smith.

“We were able to come up with a scheme that was more efficient — from a design point of view, from a volume point of view, from an area point of view — and a scheme that was much more passenger-friendly,” he relates.

The overall terminal structure will still be two levels, but the upper level will only be used for mechanical and office space. A single-story approach is prudent for the passenger portion, given the extreme local weather, notes Best. “By keeping the public on the one floor, we were able to minimize both the volume of the building area and the surface area of the building,” he explains.

Local Inspiration

According to Smith, the new terminal will have a “unique and distinctive sense of place and really celebrate the art of the region.”

The design of the overall building form accounts for Nunavut’s prevalent wind and drifting snow with an upper floor that is considerably smaller than the lower level. A curved roof reduces the potential for snow drifting on the roof and also gives the building an expressive form and profile of an igloo. “That’s where the culture and technology and sensitivity of the environmental issues all come together,” Best explains.

The public space in the center of the terminal is like a village square, but is circular in shape. While there are no overt references to igloos, the circular form relates back to the environmental and cultural form that is common in the region, notes Best.

Daylighting is particularly important for buildings in Nunavut, because of its cold climate and high energy costs. The new terminal is designed to be predominantly daylit for about two-thirds of the year, which, in turn, required precision regarding the efficiency of the terminal’s envelope. “Getting the balance right between the quantity of windows, where they’re located, with the insulation values of the overall envelope is a very fine balance,” he notes.

Displacement ventilation was incorporated to provide heating and cooling at passenger level, rather than from the ceiling. This saves energy costs by only conditioning space that is occupied, Smith explains.

An innovative system of generators within the building not only provides heating, but also generates electricity. It will provide a degree of independence from the local grid, which is not completely reliable, and also save energy costs, says Best. 

Overall, YFB’s new terminal is designed to a “high degree of sustainability,” reports Smith. Designers anticipate that it will receive certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.


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