Wings Magazine

Features Airports
Boundary Bay builds for the future

Five years ago when Wings visited Boundary Bay Airport (CZBB) the operation was very much a work in progress, a vision with a story written largely in the future tense.

May 6, 2013  By Paul dixon

Five years ago when Wings visited Boundary Bay Airport (CZBB) the operation was very much a work in progress, a vision with a story written largely in the future tense. Today, the future is now and the little airport is ready to spread its wings, like the caterpillar emerging from its cocoon as a beautiful butterfly to become not just an airport but a multifaceted economic hub serving one of the fastest growing metro regions in Canada.

Boundary Bay’s new airport terminal was completed just ahead of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Photo: Alpha Aviation


Located in Delta, B.C., adjacent to the aptly named Mud Bay, the airport is a product of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. Officially christened as Number 18 Elementary Flying Training School (No. 18 EFTS), it was opened by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in July 1941. Boundary Bay went through three phases: first as a primary training operation, then as a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) base operating Hurricanes and Kittyhawks after Pearl Harbour, and, for the past two years of the war, as a primary training centre for B-25 Mitchells and B-24 Liberators. At its peak, more than 4,000 personnel were stationed at Boundary Bay.

At the end of the Second World War, the training centre was shut down and the site went unused until it was reopened in 1949 as the Vancouver Wireless Station for use by the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals as a communications and signals intelligence operation. The station was permanently closed in 1971, a result of the unification of the Canadian military and changes in communications technology. These days the small city that housed base personnel and their families is gone and much of the site is used as a landfill by the City of Vancouver.


For years, the site was used by the community for a wide range of activities running the gamut from picnics and public fairs to auto racing and flying model planes. Municipal police forces in the metro area used the runways for their high-speed driver training. The rebirth of the airport came in 1982, when Transport Canada recommissioned and reopened it to provide an alternative for the flight schools that were operating at Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

Today, Boundary Bay is one of the premier flight training centres in Canada. In 2011, there were 147,000 aircraft movements at CZBB, ranking it seventh in the country.

In 1998, the federal government turned the airport over to the local municipality, the Corporation of Delta. The municipality tried a couple of different management companies before entering into an agreement with Alpha Aviation in 2004.

“We’ve been very busy since 2004. The first thing that everyone sees here is the brand new terminal, which was opened in 2010, just before the Olympics,” says Lyle Soetaert, the airport manager. “We have also resurfaced and reclaimed additional length on runway 07/25. It went from 3,600 feet out to 5,600 feet. That’s our main runway for the larger aircraft. We also put in instrument approaches on two of the runways, runway 30 and runway 07/25, and we did a complete apron rehabilitation.”

Passengers arriving at Boundary Bay can taxi up to the terminal and then drive away.


While the main runway theoretically could accommodate an aircraft the size of a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320, Soetaert says, that would be “challenging” at best. “We’re ideally designed for 60 to 70,000 pound aircraft, super mid-size jets for corporate and business, and we’re also designing the airport for a Dash-400 community service.”  He goes on to describe maintaining and growing Alpha’s role as a satellite to YVR: “The flight schools will always be a part of Boundary Bay. We make sure they are well cared for and can do their business. It’s been a fantastic relationship with them as well as NAV Canada in the tower. That works really well. We see the business market and the corporate market as slowly being moved out of YVR because of congestion issues and because of pricing issues. We see ourselves as a logical place for some of that traffic to come to and operate. We’ve got our Boundary Bay Air Services FBO here, so we’ve been marketing to that segment – the business and corporate market – the fact that Boundary Bay exists, as well as all the improvements that we’ve made to the airport and what that will mean to them when they come to Vancouver.”

At a large airport such as YVR, the smaller business and commercial aircraft are often treated as an afterthought, whereas at Boundary Bay the business is being developed to service them specifically. “I’ve talked to a lot of crews that have come in here and YVR as well and the difference is that at YVR you can be stuck between the runways, or behind heavies when you have to depart,” says Soetaert. “At Boundary Bay the corporate and business aircraft are number one, all the time. 

“One of the concerns I hear from people [who haven’t been here before] when they learn that there are flight schools here is ‘how long am I going to have to wait to land’ and the answer is ‘you’re not.’ The flight schools understand the situation and they’re happy to go around one more time. The tower does an incredible job of co-ordinating everybody and I haven’t had anybody actually complain about the flight schools.”

Customs clearance at YVR is another time challenge for smaller aircraft: navigating across the airport to customs, a likely delay for clearance and then back over to the FBOs on the south side of the airport, deferring to larger aircraft the whole way. At Boundary Bay, the customs box is right at the terminal. Many frequent users use the CANPASS system, so clearance is simply a 1-800 phone call away. For those without the CANPASS, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) personnel drive over from the Point Roberts border crossing 15 minutes away. Soetaert says it’s an opportunity for the agents to get out of the office. There is a very positive relationship between the airport and CBSA, so the system
works well.

The time saved in getting out of the airport once on the ground more than makes up for the perception that being 20 kilometres farther south of downtown Vancouver than YVR is a disadvantage.

Another big advantage for Boundary Bay over YVR in its chosen market is what it costs to fly in to CZBB.

“We’re about half the price of YVR; we consciously put it there. That’s parking fees, terminal fees, you name it,” says Soetaert. Alpha also operates the FBO. “We’ve always had facilities here, but we didn’t market it as a stand-alone FBO.

Most airports you go to, you have the airport operator and the FBO as two separate entities. When we started, we just operated the FBO under Alpha Aviation. We’ve decided now the best way is to have the FBO stand alone, have its own contacts, its own marketing. That way people understand that if they are going to Boundary Bay and they need an FBO, then this is it. We can waive landing fees or we can waive terminal fees. There’s so much more we can do than your standard FBO because we operate the entire airport.  At YVR, you’re not going to get your landing fees waived.”

The relationship between Alpha and the Corporation of Delta became even stronger when Alpha’s original 35-year lease, signed in 2004, was extended to 2099. The rationale is that this gave Alpha a degree of confidence in engaging in long-term planning and was equally attractive to potential clients. Improvements to the airport include much more than the terminal and runways. Speaking to a Delta Chamber of Commerce luncheon held in the new terminal building, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson delivered the message that: “Delta council has made the economic viability of Boundary Bay Airport a priority. We have committed to maximizing the industrial land development at Boundary Bay Airport. With its close proximity to BC Ferries, the U.S. border, Deltaport, YVR and the South Fraser Perimeter Road, the airport offers a prime location for industrial development.”

With more than 300 acres of property available, the airport has plenty of room to grow for both aviation-related businesses and other sectors. Heli-One, the world’s largest helicopter repair company, built a 235,000-square-foot facility at CZBB in 2008 and today employs more than 500 people at the facility.

Soetaert describes this as a period of heavy expansion for the airport, primarily because of the longer lease terms.

“We’ve got lots of aviation interests looking to move here, due to costing reasons and also the long lease. We built

40,000 square feet of new hangar space in the past year and it’s all gone. The RCMP is in the process of moving out here from YVR and we’re in conversation with Transport Canada. YVR is an expensive place to do business. Our advantage over our GA neighbours in the region is that we have the longer runways, so we are able to take some of the bigger aircraft.”

The Boundary Bay airport terminal is dwarfed by the heritage hangar – the last building left from the airport’s RCAF days. PHOTO: Paul Dixon


In 2011, the municipality rezoned the airport land that doesn’t have direct access to the airport apron or runways for industrial use to attract a wider range of users, including warehousing, wholesaling and distribution, as well as business park office uses. The Corporation of Delta has committed to improving the infrastructure by embarking on a number of projects, including designing and upgrading roads as well as improving water, sanitary and drainage. Some work has already been completed and other work will continue in phases. An $18-million project underwritten by three levels of government and Port Metro Vancouver has seen a new rail overpass built to relieve the impact on airport traffic caused by dozens of unit trains a day serving Deltaport, the adjacent container port and coal shipping facility.

The first direct effect of the zoning change and infrastructure improvements was the decision by Dayhu Corporation to build a 900,000-square-foot distribution centre directly behind Heli-One. Work is already underway and completion is slated for 2014. This one project is expected to produce up to 1,000 new jobs in the community and provide an additional $1 million in tax revenue to the municipality. The money that is generated by developing the airport lands will be used for major capital improvements at the airport. Lyle Soetaert has his to-do list ready.

“The first thing we are going to do is a major apron rehabilitation, crack sealing and filling, new concrete, and designing our taxiways to ensure that our corporate customers are served better, our flight schools are served better and our commuter services are served better. Part of runway 12/130 was never claimed back, so we want to claim the full length back on this runway. We already have an instrument approach on the runway and this would allow corporate and commuter traffic to use it as well. We’re also looking at replacing our lighting with LEDs and [precision approach path indicators] to improve overall operations.”

Another big investment is the airport’s decision to incorporate solar energy into operations at the new terminal, with an eye on earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. “Boundary Bay is very green, the Corporation of Delta is very green, so we built a 10-kilowatt-hour panel and it is feeding the batteries as an emergency backup for the terminal and the rest is going to the grid,” says Soetaert. “On sunny days, it’s putting that out without any difficulty and on slower days, maybe not so much, but it’s still putting some power out. Our system was designed and built by a collaboration of other members of the Alpha Group of companies; Alpha Technologies Ltd. in Burnaby, B.C., Alpha Energy and OutBack Power Technologies. As we continue to expand at the airport, we will continue to find ways to use technology to help us increase our use of renewable sources of energy.”

When the training facility at Boundary Bay shut down in October 1945, the last day was marked by a massive air show that drew more than 20,000 spectators – five times the population of Delta at the time.

Today, that experience lives on in another collaboration between Alpha Aviation and the Corporation of Delta. The annual Boundary Bay Airshow draws performers from Canada and the U.S. for a day of aerial acrobatics, warbird formations and static displays. The best part is that it’s free! In 2012, the Northwest Council of Airshows awarded its “#1 Up and Coming Airshow” prize to Boundary Bay. 


Stories continue below