Why Vancouver International is North America’s best airport

This interview with Mr Craig Richmond,CEO & President, Vancouver Airport Authority, was first published in Aspire Aviation.

Courtesy Vancouver Airport Authority

Courtesy Vancouver Airport Authority

IT is easy to see why Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is North America’s best airport. Neatly laid out, aesthetically pleasant, comfortable and customer friendly. Constant upgrading and an innovative approach to aviation issues have marked it out as one among the most progressive airports in the world. YVR recently upgraded and expanded its Domestic Terminal, which is part of a C$1.8 billion (US$1.4 billion) gateway strategy to keep the airport competitive.

For many travellers, YVR is also a delightful art showpiece that exudes a uniquely Canadian character and flavour. The airport’s Thematic Master Plan sets the tone for all future development, celebrating the natural beauty and cultural heritage of its home province of British Columb

Q:  Congratulations on YVR’s impressive ranking as North America’s best airport for five years running in the Skytrax survey. What makes YVR significantly different from other airports in the region? And how did you sustain the effort to consistently stay at the top?

Richmond: Thank you, it is a real honour for us to be named best airport in North America for five years in a row: hopefully it will be six years soon! This award is particularly meaningful for us because over 12 million passengers voted, totally unsolicited and based on a wide variety of factors which include customer service, airport efficiency, shopping and dining and so much more.

First, we never let last year’s win make us complacent. We have a continuous commitment to safe and efficient airport operations, creating a compelling sense of place and caring for every customer. YVR is reinventing itself as an airport hub of the future. With 20 million passengers per year in our sights, we are redefining innovation, sustainability and customer service.

Courtesy Vancouver Airport Authority

Courtesy Vancouver Airport Authority

Q:  YVR has positioned itself as a hub gateway to North America. You have been encouraging carriers from China in particular to fly here. What’s the rationale behind this promotion and how successful have you been thus far?

Richmond: Asia is one of the strongest aviation markets in the world and it’s going to get even bigger. However, we are still very bullish on North America and Europe and want to see connections between Asia and South America. By establishing YVR as a hub to the Asia-Pacific, we’re helping to create jobs for British Columbians. More than 24,000 people come to work at YVR every day and every new daily, international service adds an additional 150-200 direct jobs. For every direct job created by a new service, there are 2.5 more direct and induced jobs. It always comes back to our growth = more jobs for BC.

Right now, YVR is the second busiest airport in Canada with the most connections to Asia in Canada and the second most in North America. We are in a competitive business so we must continue to seek out more new connections in order to be the preferred hub between Asia and the Americas.

Q:  How do you address the concerns of Air Canada as the national flag carrier about the competition posed by those airlines operating more flights into YVR?

Richmond: We have a strong partnership with Air Canada; they provide a tremendously high quality product for our passengers and we love working with them. They were voted North America’s top airline by Skytrax again this year and we continue to work with them to help them deliver and grow their business.

For example, the Air Canada rouge product has been very successful since its launch at YVR in 2014. Rouge offers services to some of our key holiday markets including LA, Las Vegas and San Francisco. In addition they introduced new routes to Palm Springs and Phoenix in December and are about to launch service to Osaka in May (I will be on that inaugural flight) which is a brand new destination for YVR.

Q: Some travellers are apparently going to neighbouring airports south of the border for flying within the United States because of cheaper airfare and airport charges. Is this a concern to YVR or just small beer? If so, what has been done to retain their loyalty?

Richmond: While we would like everyone in BC to fly from YVR (and other BC airports), we realize that US airports operate under a different model which means we can’t always compete on price. We do work very hard to keep fees as low as we can wherever possible, principally through growing our non-aeronautical revenue. The fact is, Canadian airports pay rent, U.S. airports don’t. Canadian airports are not funded or supported by government, U.S. airports are.

The price difference between U.S. and Canadian flights to the same destination isn’t always substantial and it’s important that travellers consider other factors including the hassle of crossing a border, their time and parking. As we continue to create a connecting hub between Asia and the Americas, we will offer more destination options and continue to deliver a remarkable customer experience.

Q: Innovation is often said to be the key to success. I’m personally impressed by your cellphone parking area to relieve congestion at the terminal yet have the interest of the customer at heart. What else can we expect in the near future that will continue to mark YVR as a progressive airport and the best in the region?

Richmond: Thanks for recognizing this. Innovation is one of our core values. YVR has consistently been at the forefront of technological advances that have helped dictate the overall design of airports to ensure efficiency in operations, from common use check-in facilities to FOD radar. A recent example from our Innovative Travel Solutions team is the BorderXpress Automated Passport Control kiosks. Developed at YVR, they are currently being used in 20 airports across Canada, the United States and the Caribbean and have helped millions of passengers through the US and Canadian border processes.

What’s next? We view our relationship with technology as that of an enabler; applying technology to a product, service or business concept creates value by making that process better, easier or cheaper for our customers, partners and community. Our objective is to be a perceptive airport in terms of the processing of passengers, bags, planes and vehicles – which relates to the ongoing design of our terminals in order to be more effective. Being perceptive means we can learn more from our systems and data. Right now we are really rethinking the passenger check-in process – watch this space!

In order to keep YVR one of the best airports in the world in a highly competitive environment, we are working to make the travel process easier and quicker to attract new airlines and meet the demands of our growing customer base. The A-B Connector, the new addition to our Domestic Terminal, provides a seamless and efficient connection for passengers and their bags, so you could arrive from Seoul and connect to a domestic gate en route to Prince George, Calgary or Toronto in less than an hour.

Partnerships are integral to growing Canadian airports. We are currently working with the federal government on implementing transit without visa. This is a program whereby International travellers can transit through YVR without obtaining a Canadian visa. This would be a game changer for YVR and other major airports in Canada and will attract more passengers and carriers that currently couldn’t serve this market using only Vancouver based originating and departing passengers. This is key for us to continue to grow as a global hub and we are hopeful that this will be announced this year.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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