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Growth expected at Abbotsford International Airport

Brian Martin

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) doesn’t need to start worrying about the growth of the Abbotsford International Airport (YXX). At least not yet.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) doesn’t need to start worrying about the growth of the Abbotsford International Airport (YXX). At least not yet.

Jean-Paul Laube, recently appointed business development manager at YXX met recently with the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA).

He pointed out the obvious – when it comes to comparisons with Vancouver, Abbotsford’s airport is still pretty small.

On the other hand, it has been showing remarkable growth in recent years.

Laube said he feels that the growth is still short of potential, however. It’s likely construction and development will be ramping up over the next few years at YXX.

That will mean more than $100 million worth of work for the construction industry.

In 2007, about 508,464 passengers moved through YXX.

Since then, due to the recession and a general drop in airline travel, that figure has dipped.

Last year, it was 468,600.

By far the majority of those passengers were travelling with WestJet, the only major airline using the airport. Those figures, however, fall short of where the airport should be, according to Laube.

He has figures that show that in 2009 the Fraser Valley population was about 260,000.

On the other hand, the their total catchment area, including such places as Surrey and the Tri-Cities, was more than 1.4 million.

“Assuming an average propensity to travel of two trips per person per year the market size available to YXX is 2.8 million passengers,” he said.

“If we assume 75 per cent of the Fraser Valley market and 25 per cent of the remaining communities,” Laube said, “The YXX fair share should be approximately one million passengers per year.”

Current figures, Laube said, show the airport won’t grow simply by virtue of population growth.

The area’s population has more than doubled since 1981 at 126 per cent. The airport hasn’t grown at the same pace.

“We’re significantly short of where we should be,” he said.

In addition to increased passenger travel, he said, he will be focusing on the aerospace industry, cargo opportunities and possible business park development.

He pointed out that Vancouver International, being on an island, is somewhat limited when it comes to expansion.

On the other hand, while Abbotsford does not have the island problem, it is largely surrounded by the provincial agricultural land reserve, which can create somewhat similar challenges.

If YXX is to grow the physical facility must grow first, he pointed out. An important step in that direction happened last month when work began on a $30 million taxiway expansion.

It is funded equally by the federal, provincial and local municipal governments. The parallel taxiway will double the arrival rate on the main runways at the airport and increase the airport’s capacity.

It is also hoped it will improve international trade in the region by increasing the airport’s capacity to handle the larger aircraft that are typical of international flights.

At this point, YXX is largely limited to domestic flights, as trans-border flights into the U.S. are pretty much a lost cause, he said.

Government fees and taxes in Canada make it almost impossible for airports such as Abbotsford to compete with nearby U.S. airports.

Despite the various challenges, Laube said he is sure Abbotsford International has a bright future.

To reach that future they have developed a proposed capital plan that will see the expansion of both the air side and land side of the airport, the likely replacement of the parking lot with a multi-level parking garage and expansion of a ring road system.

An expanded terminal is required in the short and medium term. A completely new terminal is planned for somewhere around 2025.

“We envision a much larger terminal than we have today,” said Laube. “Although the facility we have now is fine for our purposes.”

Plans also included an extended runway for large aircraft such as the Boeing 747.

The cost of just that expansion is estimated at $40 million.

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