Major expansion eyed for Vancouver International Airport

Sep 8 2016, 9:04 pm

The top man at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is fixed on his vision of ensuring customer service, efficiency, and comfort levels at Canada’s second largest and busiest airport remains high as airport traffic soars over the next 20 years.

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Growth trajectory

The current terminal facilities have a capacity to hold 25 million passengers annually, a level of traffic that YVR anticipates it will reach by 2020.

“Over the last three years, we’ve added about one million passengers each year,” Craig Richmond, President and CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority, told Daily Hive. “We’d expect that to continue next year and the years after, so we’re looking at our terminals filling up.”

The growth is rooted from the relatively healthy air travel industry, having only recently rebounded from the 2008 recession, and the Airport Authority’s strategic incentives and programs for attracting new airlines and routes. Airlines are now paying 15% less to land and berth at the gates through ConnectYVR, a five-year program designed to incentivize new and existing airlines to grow their presence at YVR.

A decision will be made at a later date on whether to extend the program beyond the five-year term.

“It certainly is mentioned by the CEO of Air Canada and the Chinese airlines that it is a real positive,” said Richmond, referring to Air Canada’s decision to add eight new routes at YVR this year and the various new and improved routes to Mainland China. Additionally, most recently, Cathay Pacific announced its plans to boost the frequency of its already frequent Hong Kong to Vancouver service.

Every single major aircraft that services YVR creates millions in local economic spinoffs and hundreds of jobs for British Columbia.

And all of this is aligned with YVR’s strategic position to become the Asia-Pacific gateway for not just Canada but the Americas by turning the airport into an international connection hub.

Image: Warren Fenton / Daily Hive

Image: Warren Fenton / Daily Hive

“If you put a line between Shanghai and Sao Paolo, Vancouver sits on that perfect line and we’re about halfway,” he said. “We’re a perfect geographic location to put people into North and South America.”

“But knowing that, very smart people on the board and management 20 years ago designed a terminal to do just that – to connect people between airplanes and country.”

At the moment, the biggest hurdle with growing the hub is not with the facilities but rather the need for federal government permission.

“We’re just waiting for the government to allow us to connect people without visas between, say, China and South America,” he continued. “We need the government to give us the ability to move people in transit without visas like Heathrow, Dubai, or Singapore, and we can take total advantage of it. Once we get the reputation, it’s impressive.”

“I took the inaugural flight to Brisbane and all the Australians down there were not talking about Whistler or Vancouver, although they were excited about that. Rather, they were talking about how they could connect easily through Vancouver to New York. It’s such a pain at other airports. We have a great connecting product, and as everybody who has connected that’s a real key part of air travel.”

If everything goes as planned, YVR could see as many as 31 million passengers by 2026 and 39 million passengers by 2037, and this necessitates some long-term planning to accommodate the projected growth.

Over the next few months, YVR will be engaging residents in the Lower Mainland on what they want to see with the airport’s next phase of major expansion and improvement projects, which will consist of building more gates at the terminal building, expanding circulation areas, ground-level access and public transit transportation improvements, and outlining long-term plans for a third runway.

Terminal building expansion

Three terminal expansion options were considered from the outset of the planning process.

One option, the so-called ‘East Option,’ would have built an infield satellite terminal to the west of the existing terminal on the cross-wind runway used by small planes during poor weather conditions. The two terminals would be connected by a tunnel, possibly with a people mover.

The ‘West Option’ consisted of building a new super terminal building immediately east of the existing US-transborder terminal while the third option, the ‘Centre Option,’ would expand the existing terminal with additions to each of the pier wings.

“We had our very big team go at it throughout the year, from all of the different departments, and they had to measure 57 different options against a bunch of criteria,” Richmond said. “Some of them fell away pretty quickly because they were very expensive or there would be too much disruptions to passengers. We looked at all kinds of criteria, including environmental impact, ease of passengers transferring, and aircraft taxi times.”

The three options considered for Vancouver International Airport’s terminal building expansion.

Image: Vancouver Airport Authority

Image: Vancouver Airport Authority

Ultimately, the Centre Option was chosen as the preferred option for the terminal expansion as it is more efficient for passenger, more cost efficient, causes less disruption, carries less risk, and allows the airport’s capacity to grow incrementally to match the demand.

“It keeps everything in one terminal,” he said. “I hate it when I’m driving up to a terminal, and the I don’t know and the taxi asks which terminal. Because we’re a big connecting airport, keeping it as long as we can in one terminal is very important to us so that we can transfer people between various sectors very easily.”

“Another big factor is that we like the fact that it’s incremental growth. We don’t like to make a billion or two billion dollar gamble because inevitably if there is a downturn in the economy, you started something that is very expensive, and you can’t stop, then you have this huge terminal that is empty for a long time. That is not a very efficient way to do it.”

Although more difficult to construct on an existing facility, it is estimated that none of the pier additions to the terminal will cost more than $300 million.

Construction on first expansion projects is likely to start over the next two or three years, ahead of the airport reaching capacity. Although not confirmed, the expansion most likely to come first is Pier D, which is used for international travels outside of the United States.

While not needed right now, Richmond notes that the East and West options will likely have to be built in the distant future as there is nowhere else the terminals can expand.

The ‘Centre Option’ of growing the existing terminal is YVR’s preferred expansion option.

Image: Vancouver Airport Authority

Image: Vancouver Airport Authority

Elevated taxiway and additional runway

YVR is preserving the option of constructing a North-South Taxiway over Grant McConachie Way – the main access road into the airport – that will allow aircraft to reach the gate and runways more quickly. This would eliminate the need for aircraft to go around the western end of the island, where there is a taxiway that connects all areas of the airport.

Elevated taxiways over roadways already exist at other airports around the world. For instance, a planned 2.5-kilometre-long elevated taxiway at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport will cut down taxiway travel times between runways from 25 minutes to just five minutes.

When the Sea Island span of SkyTrain’s Canada Line was built, the track section running from Templeton Station and past Sea Island Station was intentionally placed at-grade to allow the future construction of the elevated taxiway.

“The way this works is you do the terminal design, and then you look at everything that is required to support it,” said Richmond. “Across the three terminal building expansion options, this was required and you could view it purely in terms of airport efficiency. It’s an excellent way to reduce greenhouse gases as it reduces taxi times for aircraft traveling to the runways.”

Elevated taxiway over roadway at Frankfurt Airport.

Image: Fraport

Image: Fraport

The airport currently has two main parallel runways, the North and South runways, that are actively used by large commercial aircraft. The South Runway is the longest and is used for arrivals and departures 24 hours, but the shorter and newer North Runway is used mainly for arrivals and normally closed from 10 pm to 7 am.

A previous airport master plan projected that a third active runway would be needed by 2025, but that is no longer the case. It is now believed the additional runway capacity will not be required until 2037, however, planning for the runway will need to begin over the coming years given that the consultation, environmental permitting, and regulatory process could take 10 years to complete.

Two new runway options have been shortlisted for future consideration. A foreshore runway jutting out into the Strait of Georgia through a land reclamation construction method. It would likely allow for a longer runway for both arrivals and departures and generate less noise for surrounding residential neighbourhoods around the airport compared to other options, but it would likely be a multi-billion dollar endeavour and create the biggest environmental impact.

The other and and less costly option would be to build a south parallel runway, but it would be much shorter and used mainly for arrivals. This option is also much closer to residential areas in Richmond.

Options for future additional runway and the proposed North-South Taxiway.

Image: Vancouver Airport Authority

Image: Vancouver Airport Authority

Canada Line expansion

The operating frequency, hence the overall capacity, of the Canada Line will be increased over the next few years with TransLink’s acquisition of another 22 cars (11 two-car trains) in addition to the existing fleet of 40 cars (20 two-car trains).

But what concerns YVR is the increasing crowding conditions experienced at YVR Airport Station, the terminus station with direct access to the terminal buildings. Richmond says the Airport Authority will explore the idea with TransLink of building a second platform on the opposite side of the station’s single track.

Also known as the ‘Spanish Solution’ of station layout design, such a configuration would allow passengers to disembark and embark like the SeaBus terminals and it would be similar to the future configuration of Commercial-Broadway Station where a third platform is being built for the Expo Line’s inbound direction into downtown.

Artistic rendering of the new third platform for Commercial-Broadway Station’s Expo Line’s inbound direction.

Image: TransLink

Image: TransLink

“It’s not happening next year or the year after, but sometime in the future we’ll have to examine it,” he said.

An option to build a fourth station on Sea Island, where the double track merges into a single track between Sea Island and YVR Airport stations, is being preserved. This station was originally intended to serve an airport expansion using the East Option plan.

Currently, 20% of the people who go to YVR for work or travel are using the Canada Line, and this is expected to rise as airport passenger numbers and regional roadway congestion increases.

Image: Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive

Image: Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive

Road improvements

Growing passenger volumes also mean growing traffic and congestion levels to and from Sea Island.

About 70% of the traffic that flows through Sea Island are commuters traveling to and from Vancouver and Richmond, and they use Arthur Laing Bridge – a crossing built and owned by the Airport Authority and originally designed to mainly handle airport traffic. However, YVR does not anticipate the bridge will exceed its capacity until 2037.

“It’s not really the terminals or the runways or any of that supporting stuff that is an issue for us in growth,” said Richmond. “The biggest issue we have over the next 20 years is ground access. How we get people to and from the airport for their flights, that is a real worry just like how that is a worry for everyone traveling on the ground in the Lower Mainland.”

Some future ground access improvement projects include replacing the Templeton-Grant McConachie Way intersection with a new grade-separated, freeway-style interchange to accommodate growing traffic.

Richmond says an increase in traffic into Sea Island from the opening of the MacArthurGlen Airport Outlet Centre, which is accessible through the existing intersection, is not the sole reason for the construction of the new interchange.

Grant McConachie Way was bumper-to-bumper on the shopping centre’s opening day last summer, causing traffic delays for passengers catching flights at the airport. About 160,000 people were recorded at the mall’s four-day opening weekend, and future expansion phases of the shopping centre could see the mall grow two or even three times in size.

Other road access improvements include an upgrade or replacement of the two-lane Dinsmore Bridge between Sea Island and Richmond, implementing a priority lane on Russ Baker Way for airport-bound traffic to bypass Vancouver-Richmond commuter traffic, and extending Templeton Street between Grant McConachie Way and Russ Baker Way to provide an alternate route for airport traffic.


Public workshops on the YVR master plan will be held on September 14 and 17, and an open house will be held on October 12. For more information, visit

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