The Thompson Regional Airport has served the community since 1961, developed originally by the International Nickel Company to support their mining operations. Since that time the airport has undergone many updates and changes coming from only one 3,000 ft runway. But in other aspects, required changes have served to be more difficult then one would expect, in result being pushed further into the future.
This being said the airport await exciting times as many of those long needed changes have finally arrived! Located only six kilometers northwest of the City of Thompson, the redevelopment of the Thompson Regional Airport has undertaken the grand redevelopment of a brand new air terminal building.
The massive project has already began to break ground this past June and is said to come to a grand total of 135 Million dollars.
Vince Shumka, Chairperson of the board of directors of the Thompson Regional Airport walked through some of the immense struggles that have stood in their way since the land was professionally assessed in the early 2000’s and told that the terminal building only had 5 years left of life in it.
A monumental effort has since been placed on the maintenance of the infrastructure and upkeep as construction workers took beams extended for ensured support, and wondered why the building continued to warp.
After testing and technical drilling was done around the building they discovered that the foundation was laid on an ancient glacier river bed that caused the structure to sink into the permafrost.
This since has been a top mandate of the Thompson airport, but even with being such a focus, funding for such a requirement proved to be a monstrosity in it’s self. While a tremendous sum was required for a reconstruction, a major significant amount of money was already being poured into the maintenance of the existing building.
Now nearly 20 years later walls have started to crack and cave in with the shifting of the ground giving way, and with the continual use of numerous incoming and outgoing passengers the terminal is on the brink of being condemned. This caused in turn for the board to pull all the stops and desperately seek for financial aid.
Grants and charities began to take heed this call to action and one by one came in support to get the job done. By 2019, the green light looked to be right around the corner when the pandemic stunned the Nation and halted the start date. When the chaos began to settle, the inflation raised their budget by 10 Million dollars.
From then prices have only began to rise. But though the heartache was heavy, this brought in more financial backers and grants to see the need through, such as the airport improvement grants supplied through Transport Canada. The previous Premiere of Manitoba personally came to the airport office to discuss more vividly the requirements of the stated need and issued Provincial funds.
But even still the numbers didn’t equivalent the full amount. It wasn’t until special notice was taken by the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) seeing the essential services the airport provided for the whole North, including medical transportation, cargo freight, passenger transport for personal and business needs such as the local mine and Hydro. Even delivering goods to the 37 northern Manitoba communities, including 15 remote Indigenous communities that are only accessible by air and winter icy roads.
As of November 28, 2023 the deal if issuing a $52 Million dollar loan to enable the redevelopment and large-scale upgrading of the airport terminal has now been closed. This ensuring the completion of the Thompson Regional Airport and now being financed through the CIB’s Indigenous Community Infrastructure Initiative, which lends to projects delivering a direct beneﬁt to Indigenous communities.
CIB managing director of Investments and Indigenous investments; Hillary Thatcher says that the potential this new development will have on the community of the North will have a lot of “culturally appropriate features as well as being able to accommodate a lot of different types of uses” Says Thatcher, “We varied all the grants together along with some of the airports own equity and came up with the right size of financing to make it work”
Airport chairperson; Shumka expressed his gratitude to the CIB, saying that not only did they come through with most the required funds, but they kindly collaborated with them on what the proper approach and most significant business strategy would be for them to take.
“Canada Infrastructure Bank really helped us come up with a business plan and financial modeling so they can account for the changes fairly rapidly and make sure this is financially suitable” Stated Shumka, “They give you longer loan times then you would get from your normal commercial lenders and with a much better interest rate”
Thompson is the Hub of the North, serving a region of 65,000 people. Northern Manitobans rely on the Thompson Regional Airport to travel to and from the City of Thompson for work, education, shopping, tourism and health care. This historic investment in important northern infrastructure is great news for the airport, for Thompson and for the north.
"This is a historic event that will leave a lasting legacy in northern Manitoba. The support provided by the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund and the Province of Manitoba shows a significant commitment to ensuring Thompson remains a regional hub for the economic and social well being of all northern citizens and will lay the foundations to look after future generations to come.” Shumka concludes.
Following project completion, the airport will continue supporting long-term access to critical goods and services as the current reconstruction is scheduled to be concluded end of 2024, expanding from a previous 10,000 square foot building to 40,000 square feet. The project also ensures the airport’s operational safety as well as supporting the region’s critical mineral mining opportunities, growing cargo and passenger travel needs.
~Matthias J. Johnson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Thompson Citizen. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.