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Reopening of major runway bonus for airport, residents

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Winnipeg Airports Authority CEO Barry Rempel shows off the newly refurbished Runway 18/36 at Richardson International Airport Thursday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg Airports Authority CEO Barry Rempel shows off the newly refurbished Runway 18/36 at Richardson International Airport Thursday. Photo Store

Some South Winnipeg residents can look forward to a better night's sleep tonight, while others will have to get used to the sound of planes flying overhead once again.

Thursday marked the reopening of Richardson International Airport's longest and busiest runway -- Runway 18/36. It had been closed for the last three months while it underwent an $8.2-million overhaul, which included a complete asphalt resurfacing, the replacement of all 400 centre-line and touchdown zone lights, and some land-drainage sewer repairs.

To mark the occasion, the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA) bused airport officials and members of the local media out to the runway to give them an up-close look at the refurbished 3,350-metre-long stretch of asphalt and a half-dozen pieces of highly specialized equipment used to keep the airport's runways operational around the clock: things such as a specialized snow-blower truck, a fire truck specifically designed to fight airplane fires and a specialized snowplow truck.

But the real star of the show was Runway 18/36. Less than three hours after the media tour -- shortly before 3 p.m. -- the first plane took off from the refurbished runway. It was an Air Canada flight to Toronto. That was followed minutes later by the first arrival -- a WestJet plane from Edmonton.

The reopening of Runway 18/36 means airport officials can breathe a little easier now they have two major runways to use instead of just the one -- Runway 13/31 -- they'd been relying on since April 28 when the refurbishing project got underway.

And for Winnipeggers living in the south half of the city, it means a return to normal air-traffic volumes over their neighbourhoods.

The big losers are residents of neighbourhoods such as Charleswood and west Tuxedo, which had no planes passing overhead for the last three months. Now they'll be flying over on a regular basis again, WAA president and CEO Barry Rempel told reporters.

And the big winners are residents in neighbourhoods such as River Heights and East Fort Garry, who will see a big drop in the number of planes flying over their homes.

Rempel said those neighbourhoods went from having 12 to 15 per cent of all planes flying overhead before the runway closure, to 100 per cent once the project began.

"The first thing I would say (to them) is, 'Thank you for your patience,' " he said.

While the runway closure was a pain in the neck for them, Rempel said it was an absolute necessity for the WAA.

"This sort of infrastructure project is about so much more than maintaining safe runways," he explained. "It is about connecting people and businesses, maintaining our way of life and the economic potential of our region."

For longtime River Heights resident Francesca de Grave, Thursday's runway reopening couldn't come soon enough.

DeGrave said the last three months have been hell for her family. Two weekends ago, she and a friend were sitting in her backyard and at least seven or eight planes passed overhead in the space of 20 minutes. Most days, it was an average of 10 to 14 per hour.

"You couldn't be outside," she said. "It was ridiculous."

She said it seemed particularly bad during the overnight hours, when there would be a steady stream of big cargo planes passing overhead.

"Every night it was just over the top. Constant. You'd have to close all of your windows."

She said the number of planes flying overhead has been on the rise for more than a year and went from bad to unbearable over the last three months. She said if they don't see a noticeable improvement now the runway has reopened, they may move.

WAA spokeswoman Felicia Wiltshire said the problem seems worse at night because it's mostly cargo planes flying after midnight. And most of them are bigger and noisier than a passenger plane.

She said the airport sees an average of 350 aircraft movements per day, and that number has been fairly static for the last several years.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2014 B4

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Updated on Friday, August 1, 2014 at 7:04 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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