YQB has built it – will they come?

Quebec City's YQB is all-in on improving passenger experience.
March 06, 2018
Written by Brian Dunn
YQB is spending $277 million on a new international terminal. It's a bet on huge growth in global travel.
YQB is spending $277 million on a new international terminal. It's a bet on huge growth in global travel.
In November, Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City (YQB) opened a new international terminal that will double the size of the infrastructure in the hopes of attracting more flights. But that could be a challenge, since the airport still doesn’t offer public transport to the city and a lot of local residents prefer to fly out of Montreal.

Having an ultramodern airport will attract a lot of curiosity, a lot of interest, more travellers and more airlines, said Quebec premier Philippe Couillard at the building’s inauguration. That could be wishful thinking. Despite doubling the number of passengers using the airport in the last 10 year to 1.6 million, it was only the 12th busiest airport in Canada in 2016, behind Kelowna which served 1.7 million travellers. And Kelowna only has a population of 195,000 versus 530,000 for Quebec. The situation creates a vicious circle. Without a critical mass, airlines won’t be attracted to the airport, forcing travellers to look elsewhere.

The new international terminal cost $277 million to build, so the airport wants to cash in on the growing demand for global air travel which is expected to triple in the next 15 years, from seven billion to 20 billion travellers, noted Gaetan Gagne, president and CEO of Aeroport de Quebec. And those that aren’t ready will miss out on the economic spinoffs, he added.

A recent economic impact study by the Conference Board of Canada estimated YQB contributes $628 million to Canada’s GDP and supports close to 6,000 Canadian jobs.

Gagne estimates that 1.3 million passengers from other regions of the province are lost to Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport each year instead of using his airport. Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume wants to create a committee to figure out how to increase airline traffic, since a lot of flights to the U.S. have been lost over the past few years. He notes the city has an unemployment rate of just four per cent, 25 years of economic growth, an exceptional year for tourism, yet the number of flights to the U.S. keeps diminishing, which is not normal.

But by the end of 2019, the airport will have invested $500 million on infrastructure upgrades, including the new terminal which will allow YQB to offer more flights to other international destinations, including Europe and the Caribbean, noted Gagné, who added that the airport is experiencing annual passenger growth of 6.5 per cent, the highest in Canada. And with a large convention centre, major corporations, several large insurance companies and Laval University research programs, business travel now accounts for 40 per cent of YQB’s clientele. There is also the city’s growing port, Quebec Winter Carnival, summer festivals, its famed walled city, its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a new Club Med that will open in 2020, which will also drive growth.

Infrastructure spending includes two major terminal expansions, a new five-storey parkade for 1,150 cars, revamping the airport’s two runways and new snow removal equipment. The airport also expects to begin construction of a new U.S. Customs preclearance facility in the spring of 2019. The new international terminal adds four gates and includes features like self-service technologies, larger and more efficient security screening facilities, a larger international arrivals hall and new primary inspection kiosks for customs to reduce waiting times for passengers.

About 10 years ago, the airport launched a program called Le passager avant tout (Passenger First), believing satisfied passengers would boost the airport’s bottom line. After all, without passengers, none of the airport’s other major stakeholders would last very long, Gagne reasoned. As part of the program, airport employees are empowered to be proactive if it helps passengers have a better airport experience.

Quebec is the only capital with a population of 500,000 or more that doesn’t have public transport to the airport. If travellers don’t want to pay $35 for a taxi, they have to walk close to 25 minutes to the airport from the nearest bus stop. "The Capital Transportation Network receives a number of complaints, including from tourists, who do not come back to such a cheap welcome in Quebec City," says Etienne Grandmont, general manager of Acces Transports Viable. “While Quebec has a very positive image among tourists, this (transit) aspect is lacking." Gagne says he is aware of this shortcoming, but says le Reseau de Transport de la Capitale expects to have bus service to the airport by 2020.

On a more positive note, YQB will be showcasing its plans for the future when it hosts the annual Routes Americas aviation forum in February, 2019, the first time the event will be held in Canada. Routes Americas brings together airports, airlines, tourism authorities and governments to plan future air services. The YQB event is expected to attract 80 airlines, 300 airports and over 1,000 delegates.

“Quebec is a fascinating, historic city with a dynamic economy and exciting aviation opportunities supported by the growth plans of YQB,” said Steven Small, brand director of Routes. “It is an ideal location for the first Canadian Routes Americas and we look forward to working with the highly professional team in Quebec.”

“This is one of the aviation industry’s biggest and most prestigious events. Hosting it will certainly help Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport to position its air services and to improve the visibility and profile of the destination within North America,” said Gagne. “It’s a unique opportunity to take a group of influential players from the global aviation industry and show them everything the Quebec City region has to offer. 

Related items

  • On Final: Growth of Canadian airports
    As I take on the role of chair of the Canadian Airports Council, Canada’s airports celebrate 26 years of devolution to local management and operation for National Airports System (NAS) airports and several recent years of tremendous growth for our sector.
  • YVR breaks ground on 20-year, $9.1B expansion
    Vancouver International Airport (YVR) broke ground on a number of capital construction projects to improve its competitive position as a world-class connecting hub. The projects are part of YVR's multi-year expansion plans that will see the airport complete 75 major projects, totaling $9.1 billion over the next 20 years. 

Some of the key projects include building one of the largest GeoExchange systems in Canada, significant terminal expansions, new parking options, and improved vehicle rental facilities.
  • GTAA reports 2017 results
    The Greater Toronto Airports Authority has reported its financial and operating results for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2017. Passenger activity and net income increased substantially at 6.2 per cent and 31.2 per cent, respectively, during 2017 as compared to 2016. This growth reflects increased capacity of aircraft and new international routes, the economic strength of the Greater Toronto Region, and the role of Toronto Pearson International Airport as Canada’s largest airport and North America’s second busiest airport in terms of international passengers.

Add comment

Security code

Subscription Centre

New Subscription
Already a Subscriber
Customer Service
View Digital Magazine Renew

Most Popular

Latest Careers

We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. To find out more, read our Privacy Policy.