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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on August 2, 2016

Upward trajectory

Joe Bates discovers more about what’s on the agenda at Vancouver International Airport.

In many ways Vancouver International Airport’s reputation as one of the world’s most innovative and pioneering hubs goes before it and it epitomises all that is good about a major connecting hub.

After all, the distinctive sense of place décor and design of its terminal instantly make it one of the world’s most recognisable, photographed and talked about airports in the world.

The latest addition to its unique sense of place artwork being three cedar carvings – Raven Stealing the Beaver Lake, The Blind Halibut Fisherman, and Raven with a Broken Beak – by renowned artist Reg Davidson, which recount local ‘Haida’ myths.

It has an enviable reputation for being environmentally friendly and regularly wins accolades for its outstanding customer service levels – the string of honours including winning Skytrax’s Best Airport in North America award for seven successive years.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) also has a rapidly expanding route network and list of airline customers, which in the last year alone has grown by seven new destinations and two new carriers – Air France and Aeromexico, which launched seasonal services to Paris and daily operations to Mexico City respectively.

New routes so this far year include San Jose, California, (Air Canada Express), Brisbane (Air Canada), Orlando and London Gatwick (WestJet) meaning that a total of 118 destinations in 20 countries across the globe are served by 56 airlines from the Canadian gateway.

And there’s more to come on the international front in 2016 as Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, WestJet and Air Transat are adding new services and Xiamen Airlines is launching flights operations to Xiamen in China.

But YVR’s success doesn’t end there, as the BorderXpress Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosk developed by its Innovative Travel Solutions team is now an international best seller, counting the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, and most recently Pittsburgh International Airport, as customers (see box story).

So, all in all, the gateway is sitting pretty and president and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority, Craig Richmond, can sit back and take it easy knowing that his airport is one of the best and most successful in the world, right?

Richmond knows that the reality is almost exactly the opposite as the gateway’s success up until now means that he and his team cannot afford to rest on their laurels as expectation levels are now so high that everyone has to be on their game to ensure that YVR continues to deliver.

He tells Airport World: “YVR is a successful airport because we are constantly striving to do more for our customers, partners and communities. And it’s this willingness to push ourselves that sets us apart – through innovative technology, a customer-friendly approach and an award-winning terminal. Complacency? That’s not an option in the highly competitive airport industry.” 


Traffic growth

On December 22 last year, YVR broke the 20 million passengers per annum barrier for the first time in a calendar year to cement its status as one of Canada’s fastest growing airports.

Richmond says that the landmark was significant as it represented a “critical milestone” in YVR’s ambitious goal of serving 25mppa by 2020.

To get there requires a combination of new routes, increased frequencies, larger planes and new airlines. 

He is quick to point out that every new daily international flight to YVR creates between 150 and 200 jobs at the airport and in British Columbia’s hotels, tourism attractions and businesses.

“Our mission remains clear: to connect British Columbians proudly to the world while establishing YVR as a world-class, sustainable, connecting hub between Asia and the Americas,” says Richmond.

“We are committed to creating new jobs, increasing access to global destinations and opening new markets for BC goods through innovative strategies that continue to drive growth.” 

One such strategy is ConnectYVR, a new rates and charges programme for airlines that came into effect on January 1 this year.

Made possible by YVR’s commitment to develop innovative sources of non-aviation related revenue, ConnectYVR offers a rate structure for landing and terminal fees that incentivise airlines for growth and efficiency. 

“By providing a highly competitive and equitable rate structure we can continue to attract new airlines to YVR and position ourselves as a major international hub in the increasingly competitive aviation industry,” he enthuses.

“Reaching the goal of 25 million passengers by 2020 would add 5,000 to 7,000 more direct jobs, generate C$2.7 billion in gross domestic product and more than C$800 million in tax revenues to local, provincial and federal governments.”

Ongoing operations at YVR today support more than 24,000 direct jobs at the airport alone and generate C$5.3 billion in total gross domestic product and C$11.7 billion in economic output into the Canadian economy. 


Canadian carriers Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat are all expected to launch new services this year to extend YVR’s fast growing route network, which currently stands at 118 destinations in 20 countries.

Sale of shares in Vantage Group

One asset YVR doesn’t have any more is international investment arm, Vantage Airport Group, following the decision to sell its 50% stake in the company earlier this year to Gateway Airports LP.

Set up 21 years ago, Vantage Airport Group currently operates eight airports in five countries that include Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica; Lynden Pindling International Airport in the Bahamas; and Santiago–Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Chile.

It is part of the LaGuardia Gateway Partners consortium recently awarded the concession to build and operate the new Central Terminal Building at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, but the sale means that YVR will no longer have any equity investment in the project or any of its airports overseas.

YVR will, however, continue to provide services and operational expertise to the Vantage Airport Group through a long-term strategic partnership agreement.

It claims that the sale allows it to focus increased financial and human resources on YVR initiatives aimed at providing economic and social benefits to British Columbians and helping YVR compete effectively in today’s environment. 

“After a successful partnership of more than 21 years, the Vancouver Airport Authority decided to sell its remaining equity interest in Vantage Airport Group, nearly doubling its initial investment,” explains Richmond.

“YVR will focus its resources on the aggressive targets established in our strategic plan. We are proud and remain committed to our ongoing relationship with Vantage and will continue to share our leading edge innovations, approach to world class operations, ideas and people.”

Since its inception in 1994, YVR invested C$52.6 million into Vantage Airport Group. Over the same period, YVR received dividends and sale proceeds of $105 million, and earned close to a 9% return. 

Richmond adds: “We formed Vantage Airport Group in 1994 as a way to export great Canadian talent and YVR’s unique approach to exceptional airport experiences. Today, Vantage continues to grow in the world of international airport management and is a true YVR innovation success story.”


What’s next for YVR?

Does YVR have any plans to invest in any new infrastructure or upgrade or enhance its existing terminals or airfield or are you happy with what you’ve got?

“We are constantly upgrading the airport to meet the needs of our growing industry,” says Richmond. “The design limit of the airport is 25 million passengers per annum and we are planning to reach this target by 2020. So, for the past year, we have been planning the next terminal expansion, looking at various options and running them through tests. We recently settled on a winning option, which we will announce soon.” What this space for more details. So, is there anything that keeps him awake at night worrying about what the future might bring for YVR?

“I rest well at night, knowing that YVR operates 24/7 under a very capable and motivated team,” he says. “This team dreams big and approaches every day and night with a fresh, can-do attitude. We don’t worry about the future – we plan for it.”

YVR’s queue busting technology
Pittsburgh has become the latest gateway to install Vancouver International Airport’s automated passport kiosk solution for its international passengers.

The US gateway has unveiled four new BorderXpress Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks, which at some airports have helped speed up US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing times by close to 90%.

Such improved efficiencies are expected to lead to shorter waits for travellers, fewer missed connections and cost and space savings.

Innovative Travel Solutions, an independent business unit within Vancouver International Airport (YVR), developed the technology.

They are currently available at over 20 international airports, including the world’s top two busiest airports, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).

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