As I reflect back on the activities of 2015, a common theme that emerges is leadership which is evident in the many areas where our team has stepped up to explore and implement new and innovative programs that have benefitted not only our operation, but many others with whom we have shared them.
Airport safety and security are key areas of focus for the Authority, and where I’m particularly proud of the leadership role we’ve played. From working with our regulator, Transport Canada, to putting together creative scenarios for safety and security exercises, to sharing the expertise of our Canine Unit, and managing tense, unpredictable situations, we are consistently raising the bar.
In 2015, a scenario involving a drone strike on an arriving aircraft, dealt with an emerging threat to aviation security, and the devastating impact that it can have. The team worked with more than 200 participants to stage a realistic, mass casualty accident that tested the interoperability of various agencies, the airline and the Authority. It was deemed a success by everyone involved, including observers from airports across the country.
In April, the Authority’s Canine Unit hosted 19 teams from around the world in a multi-agency workshop here in our airport. Over three days, the participants learned the latest methods of behavior shaping and enhanced search and detection capabilities. The workshop, which was led by the head of our unit who is a well-respected handler, offered teams the opportunity to train in the challenging and diverse airport environment. While the Authority often trains with outside agencies in the airport, this was the first time such a sizable number of teams worked together in the manner they did. The Authority has been asked to host more such programs in the future due to how well received this one was.
We have discussed the airport’s leadership in runway safety in past reports, and I am pleased to tell you that the final element in the multi-year runway reconstruction project, grooving of Runway 14/32, was completed in the summer. We are now the only commercial airport in Canada with grooved runways and ICAO-rated Runway End Safety Areas (RESAs). My thanks to the engineering, construction and project management partners who worked with us over the past five years to bring all three runways to a higher safety standard.
We have been working on safety and security inside the terminal as well. The new $60.0 million Baggage Handling System installation project progressed well in 2015, and should be completed early in 2016. The new system doubles the capacity of the previous system, includes self-bag drop stations, new screening equipment and upgrades that meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection (U.S. CBP) requirements. We also added a new baggage carousel in domestic arrivals. What is particularly impressive about this project is that it has been entirely installed with the old system running concurrently, in a precariously limited amount of space, and all with no operational impact.
I am very proud of our airport’s customer service leadership and our return to the awards podium in the Airport Service Quality customer satisfaction benchmarking program with 2nd place finish among North American airports. I’m even more pleased that our overall satisfaction score improved, as did the scores in several other touch points in the passenger experience. Our partners on the airport campus have consistently made a difference in our customers’ impression of the airport, and we celebrate the award with them.
You have heard me discuss non-aeronautical revenues many times over the past three years. These revenues are a critical enabler of investment and growth in airports. Without them, airports would be required to rely on aeronautical fees to operate, which is not a sustainable funding model. Our commercial development and ground transportation portfolios are important sources of non-aeronautical funds, and we have reviewed all contracts prior to their renewal. Our guiding principle is that all tenants contribute in a fair and equitable manner, taking in consideration industry standards, market rates and the necessity to share the cost of operating and maintaining a world class airport. The airport’s ground transportation file is one that was heavily scrutinized, with many associated contracts altered to bring them in line.
An important milestone in the commercial development portfolio is a new, long-term contract we signed with Astral Out-of-Home, a division of Bell Media, for our in-terminal advertising needs. Visitors will see more digital presence; in fact, we are the first airport that will feature 100.0% of its permanent properties in digital format. There will be a limited number of static displays, and the large video wall in the arrivals hall will be transformed into what Astral is calling “the iconic wall”. We are pleased with the progress made so far, and are looking forward to seeing what this new relationship will bring to the terminal in the first half of 2016 when the majority of the conversion will be completed.
The projects we undertake and the commercial contracts we negotiate are all for the purpose of facilitating passenger travel. In 2015, 4,656,360 passengers travelled through our facility, which represents an increase of 0.9%. By many standards, this rate of growth is modest, however, as the local economy picks up steam, so will our figures. We are anticipating 3.0% growth in 2016 and beyond, and as such, will ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to handle increased demand when needed.
Looking to 2016 and beyond, the Authority will continue to focus on the Strategic Plan that was developed jointly with our Board of Directors in 2014 and continues to evolve in step with our business. Based on five Strategic Directions, we have identified our priorities for the 2016 to 2020 timeline, and identified the key projects associated with those priorities.
Air service development will always be identified as a priority. We meet regularly with airlines and present comprehensive business cases to convince them that dedicating an expensive asset to our market makes good business sense. Because these business cases are so critical, we engaged an industry research firm to reach out to the business community to learn more about where they need to fly. We want to determine where we can get viable load factors and yield to sustain non-stop service or an increase in frequency of an existing flight, and look forward to putting the results from the survey into our business cases going forward.
Ensuring adequate and efficient access to the airport is also a requirement as our volumes grow in the future, which is why you have heard, and will continue to hear me, emphasize the importance of multi-modal access to the airport, including light rail. An airport rail link is part of the City of Ottawa staff-recommended plan, however the funding for this vital piece of infrastructure remains in doubt. We recognize that this link will not provide a direct financial benefit to the Authority, but it would make the region a more attractive destination for tourism and business and that is our motivation to continue to promote it. We will continue to work with the City to secure the funding from the provincial and federal governments and hope that the importance of the link is confirmed with the announcement of their financial support.
The much anticipated Canada Transportation Act Review report was tabled in the House of Commons on February 25th, 2016, by the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport. The 18-month examination of Canada’s transportation system included submissions by stakeholder groups, including airports through the Canadian Airports Council (CAC). The recommendations are numerous, but at this stage, they are just that – recommendations to the government. We anticipate further consultation and research will be done before the government is in a position to endorse or implement any. From our perspective, there is no simple response to the report; some recommendations could be easily welcomed, whereas others would mean significant changes to the way airports are run and bear more comprehensive study. The Authority’s senior management team will be consulting with our Board of Directors to discuss the report, and we will be meeting with other Tier 1 airports, the CAC and the federal government to ensure that our position on any given recommendation is based on solid research and understanding, and clearly communicated to our stakeholders.
Other areas that will have our attention in 2016 include our Safety Management System (SMS) and ensuring its effectiveness, increasing airport throughput through the use of Automated Passport Control technology for U.S. pre-clearance, reducing the carbon footprint of the airport and its operations through Carbon Accreditation, among many other projects that we have identified.
To achieve strategic planning success takes a talented team, and a committed team. I’m proud to say that the Airport Authority’s team is both. Every member has helped shape the organization, and contributed to us having achieved Top Employer status in the National Capital Region for three consecutive years. I would like to thank them for their hard work, consistent attention to detail, and for making the airport the great place it is to work at, and travel from.
I would also like to thank our Chair, Susan St. Amand, and the rest of the Board of Directors for their support, for being engaged, and for their input and oversight in the decisions and actions we take each day as we move the Strategic Plan forward. Together, we are ensuring that the Ottawa International Airport meets the needs of our community now, and in the future.
President and Chief Executive Officer