Abby’s thriving Airport and regional economic engine – By Ray Hudson

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One of seven WestJet daily flights taxis to the terminal with Mount Baker in the background. Photo: Ray Hudson
One of seven WestJet daily flights taxis to the terminal with Mount Baker in the background. Photo: Ray Hudson
One of seven WestJet daily flights taxis to the terminal with Mount Baker in the background. Photo: Ray Hudson

Abbotsford: Abbotsford International Airport, YXX for short, is getting pretty busy as the summer moves along. Only a few weeks away from the Abbotsford International Air Show, the terminal is buzzing with new services and more flights.

“WestJet has been the main carrier at Abbotsford for some nineteen years and operates five flights daily to Calgary and two to Edmonton,” said Parm Sidhu, Airport General Manager. “They’ve been joined by Air Canada Rouge, which is in their second year of offering seasonal air service to Toronto. Our goal is to get that flight happening year round, particularly as the business community is more aware of that service here. This direct link between BC and Ontario opens new doors for us.
Finally, on July 31, we have the inaugural flight of the NewLeaf  service to Edmonton and Winnipeg on Thursdays and Sundays.”

All three carriers are (or will be) operating Jet aircraft. WestJet flies the 737-700 series which has 136 seats, and is directly comparable with the Airbus 319, operated by Air Canada Rouge. That leaves NewLeaf, which starts from Abbotsford on July 31, using Boeing 737- 400 aircraft.

When asked about the number of passengers serviced at YXX, Sidhu said that the passenger numbers have been consistent around the 500 thousand mark, but with the addition of Air Canada and the NewLeaf flights, they could see good growth.

Last fall and winter (2015-16), Westjet ran a twice-weekly seasonal service from Abbotsford to Las Vegas. The flights, according to Sidhu, were priced so competitively that it attracted passengers who came from Richmond, downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver and even Victoria.

Asked about the Abbotsford traveller profile, Sidhu said there is a fair bit of business traffic, friends and family trips, and a whole bunch of leisure travel. This includes many small to medium business operators who combine both business and personal travel.

“We’re excited about the passenger side of things,” said Sidhu. “We refurbished the terminal a couple of years ago, cleaned up the building aesthetically with two solid colours on the building. We’ve updated the interior with modern colours making it visually and functionally simpler. The airlines have put in more kiosks, and we’re providing free wifi. Restaurant service is now available in both, the main terminal and in the secure area. Parking is community priced at $9 per day so that’s a good deal. The airport has lots of land, which we want to use to create a large aerospace cluster. The private sector just built 32,000 sq ft of hanger space which was sold out, and there’s another 15 to 20,000 sq.ft. coming on line pretty quickly.”

“The airport is an amazing economic engine for the mid-valley region which generates over 1,500 jobs,” said Sidhu. “Cascade Aerospace alone employs about 750 of those. Conair, the largest aerial forest fire fighting company in the whole world, employs about 240 people at the Abbotsford location as well. Chinook Helicopters, the premier helicopter training school, is located here, and we’ve been looking at CAE, which is a large firm, who is planning to place some aircraft simulators here. We could have two to three here by next year. We also have the Aerospace Defense Expo and the CBAA conference which will bring 650 delegates here during Air Show week.”

“We want to grow the Trade side of the Air Show and make it a heavy trade-focused event, along with the public side of course,” Sidhu continued. “We think we fill a gap, in that there’s no other place in North America with a heavy trade component that’s located on an airport. We want to turn it into one of the marquee Air Show events for North America. We’d have Thursday/Friday focused on the trade side, and Saturday Sunday would be the public side.”

Sidhu said they were excited about the coming air show which could offer the opportunity to make YXX a destination for aerospace, year round, and leverage the air show to something like that of Dubai or Farnborough, which are major shows that have also leveraged their air show for the heavy trade side. That’s our goal here as well.

In the next edition we’ll report on what’s to see at the Air Show itself.