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NEWS Last modified on June 15, 2016

Key economic role of airports on agenda at SMART Airports & Regions Conference

Airports as the catalysts for economic development was top of the agenda today at the opening sessions of this year’s SMART Airports & Regions Conference and Exhibition in Richmond, British Columbia.

Hearing more about the key role airports play in driving local, regional and sometimes national economies helped draw a crowd of 350 delegates from over 20  countries to the event, which is being hosted by Tourism Richmond and Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

Vancouver International Airport’s CEO, Craig Richmond, certainly left delegates in no doubt about the economic, social and personal benefits his gateway brings to the city of Vancouver and the wider metropolitan area that includes Richmond.

Indeed, YVR supports more than 24,000 direct jobs at the airport and generate $5.3 billion in total gross domestic product and $11.7 billion in total economic output into the Canadian economy.

However, in his opening address he chose to focus more on the social and economic importance of aviation in general and the fact that today’s airports acted more like modern day communities than just transportation centres.

“Modern day aviation is a force for connectivity and has become woven into the fabric of our civilisation," said Richmond.

"There are almost 3,900 commercial airports in the world and they act as the bases and hubs in the system for business, for service, innovation and sustainability.

“In fact, I would argue quite strongly that many airports have become more than just airports and have become communities in and among themselves that support and expand the growth of their respective regions.”
Not surprisingly, the City of Richmond is a big supporter of YVR, and its long serving mayor, Malcolm Brodie, stated that its services to over 100 different destinations across the world was of local and national significance for Canada.

“We have a very clear appreciation of the importance of airports having been the location of Vancouver International Airport since 1931,” said Brodie, who told delegates that companies such as MDA and Sierra Wiresless had established bases in Richmond due to YVR’s existance and global connectivity. 
Welcoming delegates and nearly 30 exhibitors to the show, Tracy Lakeman, CEO of Tourism Richmond, said: “The visitor economy in Richmond, not including the numbers from YVR, represents nearly 14,000 jobs earning C$454 million and C$636 million in GDP from 9.3 million visitors, so there’s no doubt that tourism, currently growing at 5% per annum, is important to our city’s economy and that YVR has helped to shape and grow this successful economy.”

The theme continued in the SMART 360 Debate, which this year saw Denver International Airport’s CEO, Kim Day; Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance’s Doug Hooker; Charlotte Douglas’ economic affairs manager, Stuart Hair; and InterVISTAS’ chief economist and strategist, Mike Trethaway; join YVR’s Richmond and moderator, MXD’s president and CEO, Chris LeTourneur, on stage.

Day said: “At DEN, we have a first-hand knowledge of how an airport can become an economic generator for the surrounding region.

“Prior to 1995, many of you may remember Denver’s original airport: Stapleton International. It was situated on 7.3 square miles and was nearly surrounded by primarily residential development. The annual economic impact was limited: a mere $3.1 billion.
"Some 21 years later, DEN is the state’s largest economic engine generating an annual $26.3 billion.”

Charlotte Douglas’ Hair described his gateway as an economic engine of the Carolinas, before outlining its ambitious development plans, the tagline of which claims that it is “building an airport fit for the queen”.

“CLT has an annual regional economic impact of over $12 billion and operations at CLT contribute over $30 million in state and local sales tax annually,” said Hair, while noting that it continues to have one of the lowest airline cost per enplaned passenger (CPE) in the industry of $1.33 for FY2015.

Later in the day, Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of the Clark County Department of Aviation admitted her goal was to ensure that McCarran International Airport always had the capacity to avoid becoming “an impediment to growth” for the community it serves.

She noted that Terminal 3, which opened in June 2012 and is the largest public works project to ever take place in the state of Nevada, has hugely increased McCarran’s operational flexibility by splitting traffic between two facilities.
It is also one of the world’s most high-tech terminals as its range of self-service facilities makes it possible to move from the kerb to gate without ever speaking to a member of staff.

McCarran’s economic impact includes generating $28.4 billion annually and being responsible for 201,456 jobs.

While Balram Bheodari, the chief operating officer at Houston Airport System, talked about the $4 billion transformation plans for the city’s Bush Intercontinental and William P Hobby airports and desire to create a Spaceport at Ellington.

In addition to the infrastructure development plans, he also outlined the importance in which HAS places on community engagement and building good relationships with students and school kids who could become its employees of tomorrow.

“We want to appeal to young minds to think about aviation and develop a local workforce to help us deliver our mission,” says Bheodari.

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