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Newfoundland is being sieged by heavy fog, and travellers are paying the price

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A thick and heavy fog has been laying siege to the skies over St. John’s, and drawing a heavy toll from some airplane passengers who’ve seen their travel plans pummelled with no end in sight.

Almost a dozen flights were cancelled Tuesday at the St. John’s International Airport, marking a second straight day of widespread disruption at the airport.

Meteorologists don’t expect the endless rain, drizzle and fog to let up until Friday.

“I was on an airplane for about 12 hours over the course of two days,”said Kristina Ennis said, a St. John’s-resident whose planned direct flight from Ontario to Newfoundland and Labrador ended up more of an adventure than she bargained for.

After her first attempt to land in St. John’s was aborted, Ennis took a taxi from Toronto to Waterloo to try to catch a second flight to St. John’s. That second attempt also came up short: Ennis and the other passengers instead landed in Gander, N.L., almost 300 kilometres away.

She ended up taking a bus to get to the city in time for a conference in downtown St. John’s.

“I can imagine it was really stressful for a lot of people travelling, especially with children,” Ennis said, adding their planes were full of tourists, many trying to get to St. John’s for the first time.

“It was pretty stressful … not knowing what the situation was.”

Kristina Ennis speaks to CTV National News on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

The cancellations and diversions mounted this week, despite best efforts from the St. John’s International Airport, which has invested heavily in enhanced landing systems to help more passengers touch down in foggy weather.

“We’ve had some really, really low visibility in the last few days, as you can see,” Scott Mercer, who helps run the infrastructure of the airport, told CTVNews.ca. He said visibility at the airport had dipped so low in recent days that even their new, advanced landing system wasn’t helpful.

One of the airport’s runways was shut down for five months in 2015 in order to install a nearly $40-million Category III instrument landing system, allowing pilots to land with few sightlines during descent.

The system works, airport officials affirmed today, and leading to hundreds of extra flights landing on time — but it requires the airlines have the technical capabilities and training to take advantage of it.

Scott Mercer speaks to CTV National News on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

CTV News asked all the major airlines operating in St. John’s if their planes were compatible with the Category III system.

WestJet said all of its planes are ready, and Air Canada said the majority of its gear is compatible, as well.

Both Porter and Flair airlines said they were operating at a lower level of technology.

“We may be able to move to Cat 3A in the future, but that requires changes in pilot training and maintenance items on the aircraft,” said Matthew Kunz, a vice-president at Flair.

It may be a coincidence, but the St. John’s Airport has needed to fire up its Category III systems more frequently in the last two years. Mercer said he remembers it well, because it requires a switch to generator power.

“We have had a lot more low visibility operations than typical,” he said. “It’s all weather driven, there’s nothing from the infrastructure point of view right now that’s causing less flights.”

An airport gate is seen through thick fog in St. John's, N.L.

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