Vancouver Int'l is serving as a model for the new Canadian airport, one with experience it can export
BY John F. Infanger, editorial director
Januray / February 1999
VANCOUVER, B.C. — In 1992, ownership of the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) was transferred from the federal government — Transport Canada — to a not-for-profit corporation. The move not only signaled the beginning of a total transformation in how airports were operated in this country, but in time it would demonstrate what such a transfer could mean to a critical airport in the national air transportation system when it takes a more localized, businesslike approach.
The ensuing six years have seen dramatic growth in infrastructure development and passenger counts. No less significant has been the aggressive posture taken by those in control at YVR, who have taken technology and management principles by the horns and wrangled them to their advantage. So much so, in fact, that they are exporting what they've learned here to other airports worldwide.
"Vancouver Airport is a great example of how a strategic plan helped shape the whole direction of the airport," explains Paul Ouimet, an executive with VISTAS, one of two offshoot subsidiaries that are exporting the YVR experience.
"In the strategic planning that was undertaken when it was first converted to an airport authority in ’92," he continues, "it was very much a regional airport. The strategic plan identified that there was a tremendous opportunity at YVR, given its geographic location. We were the closest (North American) airport to the Asia-Pacific in terms of polar routes.
"With that in mind, we completely changed the mindset of the airport from an operations, engineering, and marketing perspective.
"There was a need at that time for a new terminal building. So, we designed an international terminal specifically for connecting traffic. The strategic plan played a major role in guiding the development of the master plan."
The plan appears to be working. Passenger growth since 1992 has grown from 10 million annually to 15 million in 1998. With the pending One World alliance among major air carriers, YVR is projected to become a major North America-Asia hub.
Since the transfer, the international terminal has been completed, along with completion of a new parallel runway, a new control tower, and groundbreaking for an adjacent hotel. The 1995 Open Skies accord with the U.S. has accounted for an increase in direct service from six cities to 21, and a similar opening up of air policy internationally by Canada has increased overseas service.
As the Canadian airport transfer process continues, Vancouver is serving as one of the models to emulate. A second subsidiary, Vancouver Airport Services, has been involved in transfer negotiations for several airports and currently manages five such facilities under contract. Meanwhile, YVR officials are maintaining their aggressive posture, not only locally but at airports in South America, the Caribbean, and beyond.
THE TRANSFER EXPERIENCE
Local legend has it that Charles Lindbergh once shunned a stopover in Vancouver because its landing facilities were inadequate. Such spurning by the most prominent aviator of the day led to the local populace approving $600,000 in financing for a new airport, opened in 1931 on Sea Island, just south of downtown.
As dramatic a change that may have been at the time, it dwarfs in comparison with the changes that have come about since the Vancouver International Airport Authority assumed ownership and control under a 60-year lease agreement in 1992.