Where the Canadian economy takes off

Canadian airports are drivers of economic growth and facilitate trade and tourism. Supplied

Canadian airports are drivers of economic growth and facilitate trade and tourism. Supplied

Ask Hillary Marshall to describe the importance of airports to the Canadian economy and she may cite a statistic like this: In 2014, more than $79-million worth of live lobsters travelled through Toronto Pearson International Airport on their way from Halifax, many of them ending up in China.

It’s this kind of fact that drives home the point for the vice-president of stakeholder relations and communications at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. “A hub airport like Toronto Pearson isn’t just a catalyst for economic activity in the GTA,” she says. “We’re facilitating trade and tourism for those people and those industries in other parts of the country that don’t have direct access to international markets.”

Last year, the airport’s passenger traffic grew by about 7 per cent and is on track to grow by that much again this year, meaning it will have served more than 41 million passengers in 2015. “It’s amazing the growth that’s going on here,” Ms. Marshall says. “And what’s really important is that we are a global hub. About 60 per cent of our passengers are international, which puts us second only to JFK [International Airport] for international passenger traffic in North America.”
About 70 per cent of the people coming through are either starting a trip at Toronto Pearson or ending it there. The other 30 per cent are connecting to and from other destinations, making the airport the fastest-growing connections airport in North America, she adds.

Daniel-Robert Gooch, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Airports Council (CAC), says Canada’s air transportation sector contributes $35-billion to the national GDP and supports about 405,000 jobs across Canada. He is in the forefront of efforts to help support growth in this undeniably important sector.

“We see business links grow and trade links grow immediately when new air services are developed,” he says. “We’re part of what keeps Canada relevant internationally.”
CAC’s main focus now is how to improve screening of international travellers in the face of lengthening wait times and concern that funding from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has not kept pace with the growth in traffic. In addition to advocating for more funds, the council is studying best practices at airports around the world in an effort to learn how to streamline the process. It is also looking for innovations that will help more travellers pass through Canada without a visa.But Mr. Gooch says supporting domestic travel is every bit as important.  “We have such a small population over such a big geographical area that the smaller airports are indeed a key component of infrastructure for Canada.”
CAC is advocating on behalf of six smaller airports – Gander, Charlottetown, Fredericton, Saint

John, Prince George and London – for help in infrastructure funding. Because they are designated as National Airports System (NAS) located on federal land, they have been excluded from funding from federal infrastructure programs such as the Building Canada Fund or the Airports Capital Assistance Program. Yet their traffic numbers are low enough that they have ongoing challenges raising the funds they need to cover ongoing infrastructure needs without raising rates to air carriers or consumers.

“We want to see this inequity addressed,” Mr. Gooch says. “We want to see the rules changed so that NAS airports can participate in these programs.”

John Gibson, president of the Prince George Airport Authority and CAC chairman, wholeheartedly agrees. “We raise money through airport improvement fees, landing fees, concessions, general terminal charges, parking and rentals,” he says, but adds that the situation is challenging. “We would no doubt benefit from government support as well.”

A coalition of small airport associations, along with CAC, is asking the federal government not only to expand funding eligibility to NAS airports, but also to streamline the application process and increase funding from $38-million to $77-million a year.

Over the years, the Prince George Airport has managed to extend its runway, add a fuel storage facility and build a cargo warehouse to attract cargo carriers serving the energy and mining industries in Northern B.C.

“The airport is vital to the Prince George and regional economy,” Mr. Gibson says. “It is an economic driver and enabler that attracts business to our community.”

the Canadian Airports Council

The Canadian Airports Council, a division of Airports Council International-North America, is the voice for Canada’s airports community. Its 48 members represent more than 100 airports, including all of the privately operated National Airports System airports and many municipal airports across Canada.

Canada’s airports are independently operated by non-share capital corporations that are fully responsible for self-funding their operating and infrastructure costs, and balancing the needs and interests of the communities they serve. A recent economic impact study found Canadian airports served 126 million passengers in 2014. Canada’s transportation industry had a $35-billion economic footprint, supported 405,000 jobs (including 141,000 direct jobs) and contributed more than $7-billion to federal taxes.

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