Vancouver International Airport’s (YVR) extraordinary recent growth in passenger traffic, turning the airport into a major Trans-Pacific hub, could be challenged by another expanding player in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s Seattle,” said Craig Richmond, President and CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority, during Thursday’s annual public meeting.
He said the airport is internationally recognized in rankings for its friendly staff, and Delta Airlines, in particular, announced in 2014 their intention to transform Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) into a Trans-Pacific hub.
At around the same time, Air Canada also announced major expansion plans for YVR to boost its position as a major Trans-Pacific hub. And ever since, Air Canada has made over two dozen route improvements and additions from YVR, including brand new frequent routes to Taipei, Osaka, Delhi, Brisbane, Melbourne, Dublin, London Gatwick, Paris, and soon Auckland.
Air Canada’s growth at YVR has also helped attract new carriers for the airport.
But the threat for Pacific Northwest airport supremacy in terms of connections between the Americas and Asia and Australia is looming. Richmond highlighted Delta Airline’s potential of drawing on 330 million US residents, and SEA’s US$968-million, 450,000-sq-ft international terminal expansion, which will allow Seattle’s airport to better connect domestic and international passengers. The number of international-capable gates at SEA will increase from 12 to 20.
Artistic rendering of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s new expansion. (Port of Seattle)
Artistic rendering of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s new aerial walkway. (Port of Seattle)
Another advantage that SEA has, but YVR does not, is Seattle’s significant global business community.
“The other thing they have is big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, and a dozen others to have really strong business traffic,” he said.
“Vancouver and our airline partners, especially Air Canada with its trans-Pacific hub, we’re in for a dogfight with Seattle over the next few years.”
The importance of becoming a Trans-Pacific hub
At the end of the day, providing local residents and businesses with new opportunities and more connections to the rest of the world depends on economies of scale.
“The reason why we’re so keen on the hub is because when you get those connections, they just multiply and it is much better for people’s individual travel and for business,” said Richmond.
Snow at Vancouver International Airport on February 11, 2019. (Vancouver Airport Authority)
He used YVR’s 2016-launched, Air Canada-operated, non-stop Brisbane flight service as an example. This flight operates daily using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
“This flight comes in from New York in the early evening, full of people from New York… they gather people from their Air Canada Rouge and Western Canada network and put on three flights to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. And then you have the reverse flow,” he said.
Their data shows about a third of passengers on the Brisbane flight are staying in Vancouver, while another third are flying further on to other areas of Canada, and the remaining third are connecting to other flights reaching US destinations.
“A third just coming into Vancouver would not be sustainable for that aircraft, so it’s the connecting traffic that makes it sustainable,” he said, adding that “we have become the way to fly between Australia and New York for any Australian business person because even though it’s geographically closer through American airports, it is faster because of our processes through YVR.”
These new connections not only provide travellers with more options, but it also opens up new business markets on both ends of the route for perishable goods.
Vancouver vs. Seattle vs. Portland vs. Calgary
As of this year, YVR sees an average 890 flights in the wintertime to destinations in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. This increases to 975 flights during the summer season.
For Asia as a whole and Europe, YVR sees 1,455 flights and 875 flights per month, respectively.
Artistic rendering of Vancouver International Airport’s Pier D terminal building expansion, currently under-construction and scheduled for a 2020 completion. (Vancouver Airport Authority)
YVR in 2018 recorded 25.9 million passengers, including 12.4 million domestic passengers and 13.5 million international passengers, with 6.3 million of these international passengers from US routes.
The total number of passengers is up from 24.2 million in 2018 and 17.9 million in 2013. YVR’s latest growth trajectory projects total number of passengers will rise to 31 million by 2022.
To help meet this growth, YVR is currently undergoing a 20-year, $9.1-billion improvement project, which includes a significant expansion of its terminal facilities. Construction on the first phase of the terminal building expansion — an extension of Pier D — is slated for a 2020 completion and opening.
Comparatively, while SEA served 47 million passengers in 2017, approximately double YVR’s figures, the vast majority of its traffic was domestic – serving destinations within the US. Between 2013 and 2017, SEA’s passenger traffic increased by 41%, pushing the Seattle airport into becoming the ninth busiest airport in the US.
Just 4.4 million passengers at SEA were on international flights, with the one-hour, direct YVR to SEA route – served by Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, and Delta, United Airlines, and WestJet – being SEA’s busiest international route. This short cross-border route had 633,000 passengers in 2017, far higher than Seoul (2nd place) with 424,000 passengers and London (3rd place) with 383,000 passengers.
Although SEA’s share of international passengers (excluding the US) is smaller than YVR’s, international passenger activity is on the upswing, doubling in the past decade.
Further south, Portland International Airport (PDX) does not appear to be a player in the looming battle between SEA and YVR for Trans-Pacific hub dominance in the Pacific Northwest.
PDX recorded 19 million total passengers in 2018, but only 862,000 of these passengers were on international flights.
In terms of international passengers, Calgary International Airport (YYC) fairs better than PDX, with 1.77 million international passengers and 3.34 million US route passengers in 2018.
Despite the ongoing effects of the recession in Calgary, YYC set an all-time high passenger number of 17.3 million.
YYC has made it known that it wants to compete with YVR, and it benefits from being the main hub for WestJet.
Calgary International Airport. (Daily Hive)
Vancouver International Airport Traffic History
- Passengers: 9,935,285
- Cargo (tonnes): 144,404
- Aircraft Movements: 290,297
- Passengers: 10,235,015
- Cargo (tonnes): 151,467
- Aircraft Movements: 289,371
- Passengers: 10,830,796
- Cargo (tonnes): 182,372
- Aircraft Movements: 301,416
- Passengers: 12,006,973
- Cargo (tonnes): 214,472
- Aircraft Movements: 311,829
- Passengers: 14,037,174
- Cargo (tonnes): 249,201
- Aircraft Movements: 330,364
- Passengers: 14,818,564
- Cargo (tonnes): 260,773
- Aircraft Movements: 343,068
- Passengers: 15,508,109
- Cargo (tonnes): 249,297
- Aircraft Movements: 369,728
- Passengers: 15,806,499
- Cargo (tonnes): 269,129
- Aircraft Movements: 367,249
- Passengers: 16,032,531
- Cargo (tonnes): 251,771
- Aircraft Movements: 337,397
- Passengers: 15,476,762
- Cargo (tonnes): 228,694
- Aircraft Movements: 312,078
- Passengers: 14,877,536
- Cargo (tonnes): 235,039
- Aircraft Movements: 296,626
- Passengers: 14,321,504
- Cargo (tonnes): 214,882
- Aircraft Movements: 290,382
- Passengers: 15,725,694
- Cargo (tonnes): 229,913
- Aircraft Movements: 314,986
- Passengers: 16,418,993
- Cargo (tonnes): 223,678
- Aircraft Movements: 322,949
- Passengers: 16,922,226
- Cargo (tonnes): 222,730
- Aircraft Movements: 322,396
- Passengers: 17,495,049
- Cargo (tonnes): 226,233
- Aircraft Movements: 328,008
- Passengers: 17,852,459
- Cargo (tonnes): 211,693
- Aircraft Movements: 339,022
- Passengers: 16,179,312
- Cargo (tonnes): 197,490
- Aircraft Movements: 314,437
- Passengers: 16,778,774
- Cargo (tonnes): 226,840
- Aircraft Movements: 294,571
- Passengers: 17,032,780
- Cargo (tonnes): 223,878
- Aircraft Movements: 296,942
- Passengers: 17,596,901
- Cargo (tonnes): 227,929
- Aircraft Movements: 296,394
- Passengers: 17,971,883
- Cargo (tonnes): 228,263
- Aircraft Movements: 300,454
- Passengers: 19,358,203
- Cargo (tonnes): 256,934
- Aircraft Movements: 310,139
- Passengers: 20,315,978
- Cargo (tonnes): 271, 774
- Aircraft Movements: 316,182
- Passengers: 22,284,496
- Cargo (tonnes): 281,018
- Aircraft Movements: 281,018
- Passengers: 24,166,122
- Cargo (tonnes): 312,883
- Aircraft Movements: 289,371
- Passengers: 25,936,907
- Cargo (tonnes): 338,182
- Aircraft Movements: 295,870
New and improved major YVR routes 2017-19
February 5, 2017: Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas – Air Canada to begin daily service
March 28, 2017: Hong Kong, China – Cathay Pacific increases weekly flights from 14 to 17
May 1, 2017: Phoenix, Arizona – Air Canada to begin daily service
May 18, 2017: Denver, Colorado – Air Canada to begin twice-daily service
June 1, 2017: Nagoya, Japan – Air Canada to begin seasonal three times weekly service
June 1, 2017: Frankfurt, Germany – Air Canada to begin daily service
June 8, 2017: Taipei, Taiwan – Air Canada to begin daily service
June 8, 2017: London, UK (Gatwick Airport) – Air Canada to begin three times weekly service
June 23, 2017: Boston, Massachusetts – Air Canada to begin daily summer seasonal service
June 30, 2017: Hong Kong, China – Hong Kong Airlines to begin daily non-stop flight service
October 14, 2017: Delhi, India – Air Canada’s service to be upgraded to up to five times weekly
October 26, 2017: Cancun, Mexico – Interjet to begin year-round, non-stop flight service running four times weekly
October 26, 2017: Mexico City, Mexico – Interjet to begin year-round, non-stop flight service running four times weekly
October 29, 2017: Huatulco, Mexico – WestJet to begin weekly non-stop flight service
October 29, 2017: Kona and Kauai, Hawaii – WestJet to start seasonal service earlier than usual
December 1, 2017: Melbourne, Australia – Air Canada to begin four times weekly non-stop seasonal service
December 15, 2017: Yellowknife, Northwest Territories – Air Canada to begin daily non-stop service
December 19, 2017: Montego Bay, Jamaica – Sunwing Airlines to begin weekly seasonal service
December 20, 2017: Orlando International Airport – Air Canada to begin twice weekly non-stop seasonal service
January 29, 2018: Edmonton, Alberta – WestJet to increase flights from 50 to 59 times weekly
January 29, 2018: Calgary, Alberta – WestJet to increase flights from 88 to 112 times weekly
January 29, 2018: Kelowna, BC – WestJet to increase flights from 40 to 49 times weekly
January 29, 2018: Ottawa, Ontario – WestJet to increase flights from seven to 14 times weekly
January 29, 2018: Regina, Saskatchewan – WestJet to increase flights from six to seven times weekly
January 29, 2018: Fort St. John, BC – WestJet to increase flights from six to 12 times weekly
January 29, 2018: Victoria, BC – WestJet to increase flights from 33 to 35 times weekly
January 29, 2018: Cancun, Mexico – WestJet to increase flights from two to three times weekly
January 29, 2018: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – WestJet to increase flights from one to two times weekly
March 18, 2018: Mexico City, Mexico – WestJet launches three times weekly year-round service
April 29, 2018: Mexico City, Mexico – WestJet service to be upgraded into daily year-round service
May 2, 2018: Reykjavík, Iceland – Icelandair to upgrade existing year-round service to four times weekly throughout the year
May 4, 2018: Chicago O’Hare International Airport – American Airlines to begin year-round, daily service
May 17, 2018: Sacramento International Airport – Air Canada to begin year-round, daily service
May 25, 2018: Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport and Tianjin Binhai International Airport – Hainan Airlines to begin year-round, twice-weekly service to Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport with one stop at Tianjin Binhai International Airport
June 1, 2018: Melbourne, Australia – Air Canada service to be upgraded to three times weekly year-round
June 7, 2018: Zurich, Switzerland – Air Canada to begin three times weekly seasonal service
June 8, 2018: Paris, France – Air Canada to begin four times weekly seasonal service
June 8, 2018: Delhi, India – Air Canada upgrades seasonal service to four times weekly year-round
October 28, 2018: Honolulu, Hawaii – Air Canada upgrades service to two times daily during winter
October 28, 2018: Maui, Hawaii – Air Canada upgrades service to two times daily during winter
December 15, 2018: Kauai, Hawaii – Air Canada begins three times weekly seasonal service
December 23, 2018: Liberia, Costa Rica – Sunwing Airlines to start weekly seasonal service
December 12, 2019: Auckland, New Zealand – Air Canada to start four times weekly seasonal service