Open for business
Endless potential. Strategically planning for the future. On the verge of countless possibilities. Pick your phrase, but when it comes to identifying Canadian airports in transition that have a strong blueprint for future growth, it’s hard not to put the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF) near the top of the list.
October 26, 2017 By Matt Nicholls
Situated on more than 1,000 acres of prime land in one of the most dynamic – and expanding – economic regions in Canada, YKF is home to more than 250 private and charter aircraft, 25 vibrant and varied aviation and aerospace businesses in a variety of sectors employing more than 300 people.
With some 127,824 passengers in 2016 and 110,284 aircraft movements, YKF is one of the 20 busiest airports in the country – and it’s a key economic driver for the region. In 2015, for example, YKF contributed an estimated $90 million to Waterloo Region’s economy, which is one of southern Ontario’s most diverse. The Region has a strong knowledge- and service-based economy and boasts one of the richest insurance and high-tech sectors in the country.
The Waterloo Economic Development Corporation (Waterloo EDC) is a joint economic development initiative that was created by nearby centres to market the region’s technological prowess both in Canada and internationally. Add in the area’s affordable housing and strong commitment to community and it means plenty of potential for YKF in the form of future business and commercial traffic. Enhancing the airport’s commercial footprint is an important part of the Region’s airport development plan.
“There are 2.5 million people living within a 35 kilometre circle of the airport that are already travelling – so there is significant room for commercial growth here,” YKF general manager Chris Wood told Wings on a recent airport tour. “We are positioning ourselves for this growth. Fifteen years ago, a decision was made to build an airport capable of handling scheduled service. Over $100 million dollars has been invested to bring this airport to where we are today. We have great infrastructure and are ready for further development. We are staffed appropriately, we have our own fire service, we have our own winter maintenance and our crews are second to none. We can keep that runway clean with the best of them. All the elements are in place for strong commercial expansion.”
Tony LaMantia, president and CEO for the Waterloo Economic Development Corporation, supports Wood’s assessment. Currently, the airport has one scheduled daily flight – WestJet to Calgary – and Sunwing’s once-weekly seasonal service to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. In 2016, this service – and an American Airlines service to Chicago – generated approximately 126,000 passengers to and from YKF.
LaMantia maintains it is fundamentally important that the airport increase its commercial footprint given the Region’s population growth and corporate mix. Add in the reality of over capacity at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and commercial growth in the future makes sense.
“We are tracking to get close to a million people in about 10 years, but given the migration that we are getting from the GTA that is likely to happen in seven to nine years,” he said. “So that, plus the cluster of business investment in the region, indicates to me that this is going to be a key part of our growth story. So, our ability to work together to ensure that the 20-Year Airport Master Plan is implemented and that we have the anchor companies to drive that is going to be critical.”
The Master Plan LaMantia is referring to is a comprehensive look at airport expansion and growth prospects over the next two decades. Released in concert with the airport’s Business Plan this year, it is a tool used by the airport to plan for future growth development and infrastructure enhancement. Both documents lay the framework of shaping the airport into a dynamic national and international gateway, the catalyst of which is a stronger commercial presence. It is a $375 million plan, which will build out to accommodate 2.5 million passengers.
A third and critical piece in the quest to bring in the commercial element to YKF was put in motion this fall, when regional council introduced its new exclusive route plan – offering established carriers the chance to “lock in” point-to-point routes for a two-year period.
The innovative plan is intended to establish a strong commercial travel hub at the airport. Currently, some 95 per cent of passengers fly through Toronto Pearson, Hamilton, Toronto Billy Bishop, Buffalo, Detroit or London Airports, making YKF the largest directly underserved market in Canada. This represents tremendous commercial opportunities, especially given the growing population base.
Under the proposed initiative, airlines will be given an exclusive deal to lock in specific destinations if they choose to fly out of YKF. In order to qualify, new and established airlines must submit proposals from Oct. 2017 to Jan. 2018 and are evaluated through a detailed Request For Proposal (RFP) process. Airlines with established operating procedures in place would be leading contenders for the program – and those that add economic value to the region.
“We are the 10th largest population in the country with one flight a day,” Wood said. “We have beaten our heads against the wall for a number of years trying to attract carriers and help carriers understand that there is a large population here but most of them are being served by their hub at YYZ. So, this has been the story of our lives here for a number of years.”
The new initiative will most certainly be attractive to established Canadian carriers and the new ultra-low-cost-carriers (ULCC) looking to gain a foothold in the Canadian commercial landscape. Earlier this fall, Canada Jetlines announced it has had active negotiations with the Region of Waterloo to set up shop at YKF. The company plans to operate initially with two Boeing 737-800NG aircraft in a 189-seat all coach configurations for the first 90 days, with the fleet increasing to six airplanes by the end of November. (For more on ULCC, see “Getting high on low,” pg. 20.
Wood told Wings carriers are trying to target communities like Waterloo Region and compete on price and fly point-to-point scenarios without going through the hub and spoke model that Air Canada, WestJet and even Porter are operating on.
Commercial spinoff effects
While enhancing the commercial footprint and bringing in new entrants into YKF is a key part of the airport’s future focus, there are other opportunities here, especially in corporate and general aviation.
And with a strong mix of tenants offering a wide variety of aviation and aerospace services, including fixed- and rotary-wing flight training options, maintenance and aerospace facilities and more, YKF is uniquely positioned for growth in all areas.
Next June, for example, YKF will be hosting the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) conference to showcase its strong footprint to corporate decision makers from coast to coast. YKF is also a solid partner in the new Southern Ontario Airport Network (SOAN), a group of 11 commercially significant airports seeking strategic ways to grow and develop corporate aviation in Southern Ontario and alleviate the pressure on Pearson.
Bringing the CBAA conference to the airport will showcase what YKF can do from a corporate aviation point of view, creating corporate buzz. “That’s why we went after the conference so aggressively,” Wood said. YKF is partnering with FBO and maintenance specialist Chartright Air Group on the event. (For more on Chartright and other YKF airport tenants, see “Change Agents.”
With its solid relationship with the Waterloo Economic Development Corporation, the surrounding communities and its airport partners – and its sound expansion strategy in place – YKF is open for business and seeking new opportunities. All parties accept and understand it is very much a slow and steady process.
“There are opportunities for ULCCs here, there are opportunities for business travellers, there are opportunities for leisure, there are opportunities for a low cost base, there are opportunities for corporate,” Wood said. “We have two great FBOs now and another third fueling option – and there is a lot of hangarage on site.”
So does this mean the YKF general manager and longtime airport employee is happy with his airport’s footprint and progress?
“I would always like to see more activity here,” Wood said. “But we are doing several new things – the Master Plan, our Business Plan and now the RFP. So, I think we are well on our way to seeing great things.”
A look at some of the leading aviation and aerospace businesses at YKF
If you’ve just got into the corporate aviation game, the Chartright Air Group can help. Chartright set up shop at the airport in 2015 and opened its new full-service FBO last year. Its pristine 50,000 sq. ft. hangar, VIP departure lounge, office space, de-icing and full maintenance capabilities – as well as 120,000 litres of bulk fuel storage – make it an excellent choice for BizAv warriors seeking a suitable alternative to the congestion of Pearson International.
Quotable: “Many of the clients that come here are coming for convenience. They can climb aboard their aircraft and be roaring down the runway in record time. At Pearson, you could be waiting for all kinds of traffic – especially in winter operations when you have a backlog from anti-icing and de-icing operations” – Constantine Tsokas, VP maintenance, Chartright Group
Flite Line Services is a multi-service aviation support company offering fixed-based operations (FBO), charter, maintenance (single-engine light aircraft to complex business jets) and more. The YKF location has a strong business aviation focus and specializes in maintenance with three full-time engineers and two contract engineers. Flite Line is a focal point for American corporate traffic with some 80 per cent from south of the border. Most private aircraft operators using the FBO are from Canada seeking an alternative to Pearson International.
Quotable: “We are a full-service AMO and fix Challengers, Citations, Pilatus, Warbirds, Pistons . . . it covers a wide range of aircraft.” – Derek Hammond, manager VP, Flite Line Services
Great Lakes Helicopter/Rotor Services is one of the most established tenants at YKF. The school offers a variety of programs in a dynamic, varied aviation space including private pilot’s licence training, commercial pilot’s licence training, foreign licence conversion, advanced training options for type ratings, night ratings, instructor ratings and more. Great Lakes Helicopter also partners with Conestoga College on its two-year commercial pilot general arts and science diploma. The fleet includes Robinson R22/R44 helicopters and a Bell 206B Jet Ranger. The company also offers aerial spraying services, introductory flights and helicopter rides. Rotor Services is its maintenance arm and eastern Canada’s only R22/R44 main rotor blade service centre.
Quotable: “Our graduates find work in a wide variety of industry segments and we give them the honest truth on the programs . . . how hard they have to work, what they have to look forward to. If they’re still interested, we say, sign up.” – Adam Tastula, chief pilot, Great Lakes Helicopter
Kitchener Aero has been serving the needs of fixed and rotary clients since 1977. Its core business is the installation and certification of avionics systems for a wide range of clients including recreational flyers, corporate operators and commercial/regional airlines. It also has many special mission clients. Some 150 aircraft per year are serviced at the company’s 10,000 sq. ft. hangar, and its mobile teams travel to all parts on the country to work on aircraft. Mid-Canada Mod Center (MC2) is the company’s Toronto-based division, and it is also a leader in avionics installation and servicing including expertise in avionics sales, design, service, support, repair and installation for corporate and commercial aircraft.
Quotable: “Anyone can buy equipment and inventory. We have some of the most talented, hardworking individuals I have had the pleasure of working with over the past 40 plus years. They are the main reason for our success.”– Bill Arsenault, president, Kitchener Aero
NAV CANADA opened its new air traffic control tower in June. The structure replaces the existing tower built more than 48 years ago. At 19.4 metres high (64 ft.), the new tower is five metres (16 ft.) taller than the present structure. The four-storey building has more radar screens, better sightlines, efficient workstations and more. In all, it’s just a more efficient, more functional tower for a developing airport.
Quotable: “We’re a floor higher so we have better sightlines. If there is airport expansion in the future, we are prepared and here to provide that service.” – Steve Boyd, unit operations specialist, NAV CANADA
One of YKF’s most unique tenants is the Waterloo Warbirds – a volunteer run organization based at
Flite Line Services. The Waterloo Warbirds started up in 2014. The aircraft moved to YKF from a jet aviation museum in London, Ont. with a focus on becoming primarily a flying-based organization – airshows, flyovers, working with the local cadet program and passenger rides. The Warbirds adds a certain historical caché to the airport – Cold War military aircraft that bring a “wow” factor. There are three flying aircraft in the fleet with two in restoration, including a Canadair CT-133 Mk3, Silver Star, an Aero L-29 Delfin and a De Havilland DH-155 Mk 55 Vampire. Later this year, a Mig-15 will join the trio of flying aircraft. Another T-33 will be added next year.
Quotable: “It is not a money making endeavour by any stretch of the imagination for the owners, volunteers or organization. The proceeds we are making are going right back into the operation of the aircraft, insurance, hangarage . . . it does bring a cool factor to the airport.” – David Kreutzkamp, marketing manager, Flite Line Services
Waterloo Wellington Flight Centre (WWFC) The WWFC is one of the most experienced flight schools in Canada and has played a significant role in the development of the airport. Founded in 1932 at Lexington field in North Waterloo as a flying club, today the flight school offers aspiring pilots a wide variety of programs, including Pilot Ground School, Commercial Ground School, IPC Ground School, UAV pilot training, Integrated ATP Program and two post-secondary degree programs with Conestoga College and the University of Waterloo. WWFC has several career development partnerships with prominent airlines including Sunwing (Direct Entry Pilot Program), Jazz Aviation (Pathways Program), Air Georgian (Soar) and Porter Airlines (Destination Porter). The flight school boosts a modern fleet of Cessna 172S aircraft and has acquired new SIMs for pilot development. It is offering a new ATPL program in January.
Quotable: “We have morphed from a relatively local flying school to one of the five or six major aviation organizations in Canada. Our two post-secondary partnerships are keys to that success.” – Bob Connors, general manager, WWFC
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