By GRAHAM HICKS
In this “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” world, we forget that today’s prosperity was built upon courageous decisions made in the past. That tomorrow’s well-being depends on decisions made today.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present you with astounding proof of past courageous decisions.
Edmonton International Airport and its amazing “Airport City” are dynamic and thriving. Hundreds of growing industrial and service companies are located here because of the airport’s ever-growing cargo and passenger capabilities.
In the early ’90s, Edmonton’s aviation sector was a mess. The “International Airport” was barely functional, with next-to-no American or international flights.
Canadian aviation players — i.e. most airlines — had concluded Alberta could only support one big airport, in Calgary. Most airport activity was at the downtown Municipal Airport, with every-half-hour commuter flights to Calgary.
A series of courageous, Edmonton-centric decisions were made. Airport ownership was transferred from the federal government to a non-profit regional airport authority mandated to bring Edmonton’s air transport back from the dead.
A hard-fought 1995 referendum to shut down the Municipal Airport and consolidate air service at the International Airport was successful. New social media channels ignited a “youth for consolidation” movement that overwhelmed the old-guard status quo.
The airport authority defied the odds, defied the big airlines and other interest groups that saw Calgary as the only “hub” in Alberta.
The authority set out on multi-phased airport expansion and modernization – financed by a passenger airport-improvement fee. Millions upon millions were invested in new aprons, aircraft and passenger handling and the seeking of new flights.
This was visionary, maybe a touch crazy. If you build it, they will come?
I’ll never forget a conversation with then-airport CEO Scott Clements and board chair Sid Hanson at the opening of the Air Canada departures hall in 2000 – Phase I of what’s now a 100% overhauled and futuristic airport. “If we go down,” said Hanson, “we’ll go down with the biggest fight you’re ever seen.”
Fast-forward to today.
In short, it all worked.
More than double the passengers from 2005 now fly through the Edmonton Airport and 2018 saw a new record (thanks to the new low-cost airlines) of eight million passengers.
Since 2016, passenger volume has grown by 20% to 25% per year. This in the middle of the 2014-2018 Great Oil Crash.
Tourism – thanks to much marketing – has finally become significant. In 2016, 163,157 passengers either on business or on vacation flew in from the USA, 73,609 from other international airports.
Flights: All Canadian destinations are well-served out of Edmonton, with dramatic increases since 2000 in flights, airlines and passengers-per-aircraft.
In 2000, the only American non-stops went to Seattle and Minneapolis. Today non-stop flights fly to 11 American cities.
The winter-getaway market – our friends heading to Mexico, Cuba and Costa Rica to warm up – has exploded. Winter non-stops regularly fly to 11 “sunshine” destinations south of the USA.
Non-stops to Europe remain sparse, but are arguably matched to demand.
KLM’s Edmonton-to-Amsterdam route – three a week in winter, four in summer – is now in its fourth year, well-ensconced and providing reliable passenger and air-cargo service to Europe.
Icelandic Air’s 10-month-a-year flights to Reykjavik and on to Europe are showing staying power.
This summer, WestJet will offer twice-a-week non-stops to England’s Gatwick Airport.
In 2000, the airport was surrounded by farm land – fortunately owned by the airport itself.
Who would have thought, 19 years later, that “Airport City” would be such a reality, with its golf course, shopping mall, Costco, a second hotel, soon-to-open race-track/casino facility and more. Let’s not forget the nearby airport-driven development east of Hwy 2.
Driving into the airport terminal today, one is literally driving through a small, growing city.
For arriving or departing passengers, Airport City offers recreational and shopping activities. For passengers with hours of wait-time between planes, the nearby leisure activities make Edmonton an enticing transfer point. Soon to open is a short-term baggage storage facility.
The over-all goal, says airport authority CEO Tom Ruth, “is for your blood pressure to go down as you come to the airport.”
The end result: As of early 2019, 2000 new jobs, $750 million of new private investment, and, for the past two years, North America’s fastest growing airport for commercial activity.
Next week: Today’s decisions for tomorrow — the birthing of Edmonton Airport’s next big economic leap, as an industrial centre and an international/national air-cargo hub.