A light dusting of fresh snow covers parts of the busy construction areas at the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) in Breslau, just east of Kitchener and north of Cambridge, on this cold January day.
In one section, structural steel components — lengthy I-beams, tall columns, and angled sections — have been erected by construction workers for a future departure lounge for airline passengers.
Nearby, the frame of what will soon be a baggage building at the airport has already been assembled and siding is in the process of being installed.
The site is a beehive of activity. It’s part of a $44 million expansion which will see the airport doubled in size to just over 60,000 from 30,000 square feet in a bid to accommodate more passenger traffic.
About 80,000 passengers were accommodated at the airport in 2019 but the figure is expected to balloon to more than one million by 2023.
The new buildings will have baggage carousels, holding areas, food services, retail shops and pre-board screening areas.
The project is the first stage of a 20-year master plan for the airport that was first approved by Waterloo Regional Council in April 2017. Funding for the current work was approved by council last year.
Regional chair Karen Redman told a recent groundbreaking ceremony that it is an exciting time for the region, and the project is an important milestone as the airport continues to grow and drive the economy.
“Airline partners have recently announced an increase in destinations and frequency of flights, which will move the airport to the next level in world-class service,” she said. “This will also provide more opportunities for the region in terms of jobs and economic expansion.”
The expansion was needed to accommodate the anticipated increase in passenger traffic which has occurred over a short period. A major reason for the increase is due to the fact Flair Airlines began operating out of YKF in May 2021. The company’s service has added more than 100 jobs to the local economy.
“This investment in the airport will help to ensure we are attracting people and companies to put down roots in Waterloo Region,” Redman explained.
Indeed, the airport is an important anchor for the region’s economy and the expansion is expected to help facilitate growth over the coming decades. According to the region, the airport will add jobs to the economy and help to attract more businesses and support the tourism industry as the world comes out of the pandemic.
International transport links are an essential factor in location decisions for companies looking to expand, and increased connectivity is important for the economy and attracting talent to the area, the region stated.
The expansion project is expected to be completed in the spring.
“We are pleased, encouraged and optimistic about our economic future with steps like this one.”
Minto Schneider, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region, said the organization welcomes the airport expansion because the increased commercial air service into the region, coupled with increased capacity, “gives our destination a competitive edge and bodes well for the strength and growth of the community.”
Flair, WestJet, Sunwing and Pivot Airlines are presently flying out of the regional airport, but plans are in the works for others to come.
“The expansion of the airport facilities is a measured and appropriate investment to provide a great customer experience at the airport and we look forward to filling it with happy travellers and to driving continued economic growth in the region,” Flair Airlines president and CEO Stephen Jones said in a statement.
Executive Aviation president Nelson Bradshaw said the investment in facilities and equipment is exciting because it will lead to a more enjoyable experience for passengers and the airline’s growing team.
The airport also received news recently that it can go ahead with plans to extend a runway at the airport to 2,134 metres from a length of 1,250 metres, as well as construct new access roads, a parallel taxiway and lighting, and runway end safety areas, fencing, stormwater management and realign municipal drain and environmental controls. The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada decided that a review of the airport project is not required.
The decision will enable the runway to be improved so the airport can serve bigger aircraft. Presently, one runway can only accommodate light general aviation aircraft and flight training activity. Another can accommodate larger narrow-body aircraft but wide-body aircraft with two aisles can not use the airport.
The runway extension project, according to the region, will enhance safety and reliability for aircraft and improve the overall use and flexibility for scheduled air service.