The Vancouver 'Experience'

Technology, passengers are the drivers


VANCOUVER — In 2010, the Olympic Winter Games will be held here and in neighboring Whistler. It will be a fitting test for Vancouver International Airport — YVR, as it’s known locally — which for years has placed a huge emphasis on tapping technology to move passengers more efficiently while at the same time positively affecting their airport experience. For YVR officials, that has meant taking more control and becoming involved in cross-border processing technologies.

Nestled among bays and mountains on Sea Island, some 30 miles north of the U.S. border in southwest British Columbia, Vancouver International was taken over in the mid-1990s by the Vancouver Airport Authority under a long-term lease with the federal government. When Transport Canada operated YVR, it saw Vancouver at the far west outpost of its national transportation system. When the authority assumed control, it envisioned YVR as the Gateway to the Pacific, and the investment and related success to that strategy has been nothing short of impressive.

“The whole ‘Gateway’ concept was the right strategy and it’s working well,” comments Larry Berg, president and CEO of Vanouver International. “Our traffic year-to-date is up 7.8 percent; the Asia/Pacific sector is up about 11 percent, year to date. It’s very strong. New service added last year includes daily to Auckland; Sidney; increasing capacity to Hong Kong. Those are driving some of the growth here. And of course China; which remains strong.

“We have 63 frequencies a week into China, including Hong Kong. We have the most direct service service into China via a North American airport.”

The airport has also been a global leader in the implementation of technology in its operations, which has resulted in streamling the process for passengers while also reducing costs to the air carriers, according to Berg. NEXUS, U.S. Direct, the Disney Express at Orlando International — these are some big impact items in which YVR’s leap into technology has made its impact felt.

And the innovation continues, explains YVR vice president of simplified travel and CIO Kevin Molloy. The airport is embarking on EPIL — electronic primary inspection line — which will soon enter a pilot program before being implemented nationally. From there, Molloy expects it to be applied internationally and in time to become a significant component of a global passenger processing system being explored by the International Air Transport Association. [For more on EPIL, see TechBytes}

Recently, the airport added Chinese (besides French and English) to its primary wayfinding signage and installed LCD panels that offer directions in different languages depending on which flights are operating. At midday, the signs offer directions in Japanese, Korean, and other Asian languages; at 6 p.m., they switch to German, Spanish, and Italian.

A history of efficiency
Vancouver International, like airports in Brussels and Amsterdam, recognized early on that new technologies coming out in the 1990s could have a significant impact on airline and airport operations, and cost. As officials here embarked on a path toward making their facility attractive to new carriers and their passengers, they looked to technology for solutions.

Comments Berg, “We have for some time now been performing services that traditionally airports have had done by the airlines. I go back to the whole common use technology, gates and counters, and the computer infrastructure behind it. We manage all of that and sell it to the carriers on a common use basis. That applies to gates; it applies to the check-in counters.

“Those sorts of things have certainly reduced airline costs substantially at Vancouver. It provides infrastructure and also better customer service and flexibility in the infrastructure, that can be applied to any given airline at any given time.

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