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Vancouver airport launches plan to lure Asia-Pacific traffic Add to ...

In a bid to fend off growing competition from other cities, Vancouver International Airport is launching a $1.8-billion upgrade that in part will be paid for by a jump in airport improvement fees.

“The aviation industry is a very competitive industry and if YVR wants to continue the sort of growth projections that we’ve enjoyed in the past, and the job creation, we have to attract more carriers,” Larry Berg, president and CEO of the Vancouver International Airport Authority, said Wednesday.

He said the airport improvement fee is going up to $20, from $15. As well, airport charges to airlines are being frozen for five years and the provincial tax on jet fuel is being removed.

The cost shifts, which put more of a burden on travellers and less on airlines, are needed to keep YVR as competitive as other airports – notably Calgary and Edmonton – vying for Asia-Pacific traffic, Mr. Berg said.

He made his announcement at the Vancouver Board of Trade as he laid out plans to expand and modernize over the next decade.

Mr. Berg said the “geographical advantage” that YVR has traditionally had, of being the closest, major West Coast terminal to Asia, is being rapidly eroded as new technology gives jets greater range.

Flights can now go direct to Asia from as far east as Toronto and Chicago, he said, showing a map that illustrated how jets arc over the polar region to drop down into a growing number of airports in China.

“With new aircraft and navigational technology, a lot more cities are accessible from Asia today. And these cities have figured out what YVR’s founders knew. Serving as a gateway can bring vast economic benefits to their communities ... this [is a] dramatically different competitive landscape than we [faced] 20 years ago,” he said.

“Our competitors are not limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco. They include Toronto, Chicago and ... both Edmonton and Calgary want to be gateways between Asia and the Americas as well.”

Mr. Berg said Edmonton is opening 12 new international gates next month and Calgary is building a new runway and 22 new gates for 2015.

“Neither Calgary nor Edmonton has the passenger traffic to fill those gates today – so guess whose traffic they are looking at?” he said.

Mr. Berg said YVR, which last year was named North America’s best airport at the World Airport Awards in Copenhagen, is fighting back.

A new high-speed baggage system, new moving walkways and secure corridors between the domestic and international terminals will cut the time passengers spend connecting to flights from 90 minutes to under an hour.

The domestic terminal building is being upgraded, safety measures are being added to runways and a new enclosed building where aircraft can test engines and de-ice is being opened.

Mr. Berg said to help fund the improvements, the airport authority is increasing the Airport Improvement Fee by $5 on May 1, for passengers travelling to destinations outside of B.C. Passengers travelling within B.C. and the Yukon will continue to pay a $5 fee.

And Mr. Berg said the provincial government will soon stop charging a two-cent-per-litre tax on jet fuel at YVR.

That change, promised by the government in 2010, will come into effect April 1. It will save the airline industry an estimated $20-million in the first year.

Vancouver International Airport Authority is a not-for-profit organization that operates YVR, which is Canada’s second busiest airport, behind only Toronto. YVR handled 17 million passengers and had more than 296,000 aircraft landings and take-offs last year.

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