In the spotlight were Edmonton International Airport (EIA) president and CEO, Tom Ruth; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) interim airport deputy general manager and CFO, Greg Richardson; Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) president and CEO, Howard Eng; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) managing director, Lance Lyttle; and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) CEO, Candace McGraw.
The CEO Panel, listed as ‘The Thinkery’, covered a wide range of topics broadly centred around the challenges and opportunities facing their respective airports now and in the future.
EIA’s Ruth outlined some of the incredible developments going on at his airport today as the gateway looks to decrease its dependency on aeronautical revenues, boost its commercial income and cement its status as one of the region’s most important economic generators.
The projects include the recently opened outlet mall and the ongoing construction of an 800,000 square foot high-tech facility for growing medical cannabis, a giant COSTCO warehouse, new hotel, an eight acre truck training track, horse racing track and an assortment of cargo, logistics and distribution facilities.
Ruth, who described EIA as Canada’s largest airport in the north and gateway to the north with more land than any other airport in the country, noted that when you build an airport city the development naturally radiate outwards for the entire region.
He said: “Why do we pursue commercial development? Well, we do it for several reasons, one of which is to create a passenger/tourist destination.
"Today, for example, we have almost as many people coming to the outlet mall as they do to the airport. This, of course, drives economic prosperity with 2,000 new jobs added this year alone based on all the commercial developments. Being a destination also drives passenger and cargo growth.”
He added that thanks to Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre and another 30 incubated companies based at the airport, EIA today viewed itself as a laboratory for innovation.
ATL’s Richardson, whose airport remains the world’s busiest passenger gateway handling in excess of 104 million passengers per annum, revealed that the gateway had to find increasingly innovative ways of using and developing the airport site as its 4,700-acre site was “relatively small” for an airport of its size, and effectively meant that having enough gates to meet rising demand would always be an issue.
But the airport is definitely up for the challenge as its $6 billion capital improvement programme, ATLNext, includes plans to modernise its existing facilities, add new parking and cargo facilities and a sixth runway to “boost the airport’s capacity, provide some extra gates and enhance the aesthetic appeal of Atlanta.”
ATL’s economic importance to Atlanta and the surrounding region remains huge, noted Richardson, the latest figures showing that it currently generates $64 billion in economic activity and is responsible for 450,000 jobs.
Eng touched on GTAA’s ambition to develop Toronto Pearson into a ‘mega hub’ and the need to improve ground transportation links in order to reduce the time it takes to travel to the airport, which is expected to increase by 30% in the future as passenger numbers rise.
“If it takes too long to get anywhere, the region will no longer be an attractive place to visit and this will have an adverse impact. So, we are working with the regional government to create a transit hub at the airport,” said Eng.
He added that working better together with southern Ontario’s airports – Pearson is a member of the southern Ontario airport network (SOAN) –was also crucial to helping Pearson achieve its goal as a mega hub well as improving connectivity to the province’s other gateways.
More than 52 million passengers and 470,000 tonnes of cargo passed through Southern Ontatio’s airports in 2017, said Eng, noting that this figure is expected to rise to 110 million passengers and over one million tonnes of freight by 2043.
A total of 47.1 million passengers and 538,000 tonnes of cargo passed through Pearson in 2017 and this is expected to rise to 85 million passengers and 950,000 tonnes of freight by 2037.
He also revealed that Toronto Pearson is a huge economic engine for the city and surrounding region, today generating C$42 billion in economic activity and directly employing 49,000 people as it contributes to more than 6% of Ontario’s GDP.
Seattle-Tacoma’s Lyttle talked about his airport’s efforts growing traffic figures and economic impact while CVGs’s McGraw spoke about how her airport has bounced back from losing its status as a Delta hub to becoming one of the fastest growing gateways in the US when it comes to available seat capacity.
She said that a new more diversified business plan and a series of new cargo and commercial developments ensured that the airport would never again “be caught on the back foot again by being too dependent on one tenant.”
Earlier in the day, the conference opened with welcome addresses by Ruth; Tanni Doblanko, Mayor of Leduc County; Bob Young, Mayor of Leduc; Sarah Hamilton, councillor, City of Edmonton; and Myron Keehn, vice president of air services and commercial development at Edmonton International Airport.
Doblanko referred to EIA as being the “heartbeat” of the region and Hamilton called it a “vital resource” for Edmonton and the surrounding region.
Conference chairman and president and CEO of MXD Development Strategists, Chris LeTourneur, outlined a number of key trends driving innovative, non-traditional commercial development at airports across North America.
Setting the scene for the conference, which is based on the theme of ‘innovation and connectivity’, he also highlighted some of the pioneering ways that airports have embraced new technology.
He noted: “Airports are becoming living laboratories for innovation, as we have seen at Edmonton International Airport with Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre.”