Change is in the air at YYJ

Victoria Airport Authority offers details of its most recent master plan

New air carrier services are set to begin flying out of the Victoria International Airport this spring and summer, as the airport authority works hard to attract other route services — domestic and foreign —to its terminal.

To win and maintain those services, the Victoria Airport Authority has set into motion a 20-year master plan to upgrade and expand the terminal building, add more space on the tarmac for aircraft and expand its main runway.

That master plan has been the subject of two open house presentations, one in downtown Victoria earlier this month, the second at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre March 19. Airport authority chief executive officer Geoff Dickson and director of marketing and community relations Terry Stewart led the presentation and answered questions from the audience.

In the short term — 2012 to 2016 — the authority has plans to extend its main runway 600 feet, split between the east and west ends of the airstrip.

With hopes to attract services to destinations further afield, Stewart said the runway needs to grow to be able to accommodate larger, long-haul aircraft.

“We had Boeing come to the airport and assess all of the fleets available and look at the airport’s needs,” he said.

That ended up being an additional 600 feet. Today, the plan is to do the $8.1 million expansion as early as 2016 and 2017, growing by 400 feet at the west end and 200 feet to the east.

As well Stewart noted the airport is 72 years old and the runway itself requires “considerable restoration.” To that end, the authority will work in a 3-inch pavement overlay project within that same short-term time frame, for a cost of approximately $7.5 million.

Already, the airport authority has started work on upgrades and changes in its terminal building. There will be expansions of pre-screening areas, new escalators and elevators, additional space for retail and food services after the security checkpoint and improvements to parking areas. These, too, are expected to occur between now and 2017 and cost around $8.1 million.

All of the short-term projects outlined in the master plan will cost an estimated $41.6 million. Over the medium and long term, which is planning out to the year 2031, the authority is estimating all of their improvement projects will cost nearly $162 million. The airport authority generates around $10 million in surplus revenue each year, which Dickson said is put into facility improvements and debt repayment. Stewart added that since the authority took over the operation of the airport in 1997, their investment has been around $100 million.

The authority also hopes to get some value out of leasing land surrounding the airport. The master plan shows potential growth areas in the West Sidney industrial and commercial areas, as well as two business park spaces — an existing area where the Thrifty Foods warehouse facility is currently located, and the other — a 38-acre site — in the south west. It’s not developed yet, but Stewart said they are looking for high-end technology and light industrial businesses to move in. This business park could open as early as 2014, but Stewart said it’s more likely to grow over the next five to eight years.

Questions from the audience ranged from types of retail offerings at the airport and traffic congestion at the terminal, to transit services and relationships with neighbouring communities.

The Victoria Airport Authority’s master plan is available on their website, victoriaairport.com/master-plan, as is a place where people and leave their comments.

Noise concerns from neighbours

As the Victoria International Airport grows over the next 20 years, its master plan indicated little in the way of corresponding noise growth.

Director of marketing and community relations Terry Stewart says there’s little increase in aircraft noise predicted between now to 2016. That’s due, in part, to advanced in aircraft technology that make the engines more quiet, and the fact that Victoria operates mainly during the day. The airport has overnight parking areas for aircraft, which will be expanded in the future.

With adding new services and aircraft, however, he noted there will be marginal increases in noise — not including military aircraft activity and the noise from an older jet operated by Purolator.

Other noise from the airport, such as bird control air cannons, still occurs and Stewart said they have made timing changes to try to disturb their neighbours a little less. He aded, however, safety is a top priority and the cannons will continue to be used to prevent bird strikes.

By the Numbers

• Air movements (flights) out of YYJ

– 138,000 (2011)

– 182,000 (est. by 2031)

– 218,500 (current capacity)

• Passenger traffic at YYJ

– 1.5 million (2011)

– 2.7% per year (estimated passenger growth to 2031)

– 81% domestic traffic at YYJ in 2011

– 17% transborder traffic (Canada-U.S.A.)

– 2% international traffic

• New services on the horizon

– WestJet regional service, Encore. Expected to sets flying out of Victoria by June 24, 2013.

– Air Canada Rouge, leisure-style services to Europe and the Caribbean via Toronto. Expected to start July 1, 2013.

• Opportunities ahead

– YYJ is trying to lure carrier services to other domestic markets, such as Ottawa, as well as destinations such as Los Angeles and other U.S. sites. There’s also work being done to attract seasonal services to Europe ore the next four to five years.