Abbotsford destined to be major transportation player
Chicago has more than one. So do Los Angeles, New York and many other great American and European cities.
I'm talking about international airports. Shouldn't Metro Vancouver, the economic hub of British Columbia, Canada's gateway to the Pacific, have a second airport, too?
Well, we actually already do. You probably just haven't thought about it. It's the Abbotsford International Airport.
If you laugh, it's because you aren't looking at where we live from what one might call the Google Earth view -- the ability to look at your neighbourhood close up and then zoom out and see things from greater heights and a future-looking perspective. Don't feel bad if you don't get the Google Earth concept; neither do most of our politicians and planners.
First, consider the remarkable business success behind Abbotsford International -- YXX on your boarding pass. A dozen years ago, the sleepy city of farms and acreages on the edge of Metro Vancouver bought the airport from the federal government for $10. Nobody thought much about its chances.
But over the next dozen years the Abbotsford Airport Authority invested millions in a new terminal, better parking and longer runways to land bigger jets. In 2006, Abbotsford International surpassed 500,000 annual passengers. It plans to have at least two million passengers go through its gates within 25 years and there's also an excellent chance in the next few years YXX will become a hub for continental and international air cargo operations.
Now, Abbotsford isn't going to knock off Vancouver International anytime soon. The latter pushed 17 million passengers through its gates in 2008. YVR will be the region's primary gateway for generations.
But Abbotsford is destined to be a significant player. It's already a regional hub for WestJet, with flights to Edmonton, Toronto and Calgary. Executive jets will use it during the Olympics. And charter operators see it as a base for flights south of the border -- perhaps even across the Pacific.
George Peary, Abbotsford's mayor, predicts there will soon be direct flights to India and China. "We had an operator who was looking at a direct flight from Amritsar to Abbotsford,"
he says. "Then the economy took a hit. But we do see flights to India and China as very possible."
While it's clearly a business success story, the rise of a second airport says something else, too. It's a challenge to the myopic and territorial approach our planners and mayors tend to take when viewing our West Coast metropolis. This is not an ad hominem attack. It's borne out by some key facts.
Statistics show the City of Vancouver will grow from a population of 607,000 to 709,000 by 2031. That's a modest 17-per-cent increase. Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Langley Township and Surrey now have a population of about 770,000. They are projected to reach 1.29 million people by 2031, a 67-per-cent boost in population. Translation: the real growth is south of the Fraser River and Abbotsford is destined to be an aviation and ground transportation hub.
Yet despite its major airport, booming population and increasing integration into the rest of our urban metropolis, Abbotsford has too limited a voice. Within Metro Vancouver, the agency that is supposed to take the bird's eye view on the Lower Mainland's development, the fifth largest community in the region is still only given an official voice in running Metro Vancouver's parks.
Even more illogical is that Abbotsford is not meshed into TransLink, the provincial agency supplying and planning much of the public transit to the Lower Mainland.
What we have here is urban myopia. What we need is more people with a Google Earth account.