Vancouver International Airport extends its overseas reach

Several new carriers in recent years have enabled more non-stop and one-stop routes
Mainland China-based Xiamen Airlines' July 25 non-stop flight to Vancouver marked the airline's first foray into North America | Vancouver Airport Authority

When a Xiamen Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) after a non-stop flight on July 25 to mark the airline’s first foray into North America, it highlighted the expanding horizons of the airport as it provides ever-easier air access to many parts of the world.

The increase of non-stop and one-connection overseas flights to and from YVR could help boost B.C. tourism because travellers can be deterred from taking a trip somewhere if they need two flight connections to get there.

YVR is now the first airport in the Americas and Europe to have scheduled flights from five airlines that are based in mainland China. In addition to Xiamen Airlines, the Chinese carriers that operate out of YVR are Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Sichuan Airlines.

To underscore how significant that is, Vancouver has direct flights to the U.S. from only four U.S. airlines: American Airlines (Nasdaq:AAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) and United Airlines (Nasdaq:UAL).

Click here for a new list of the largest carriers flying out of YVR.

What is key with Xiamen Airlines is that it flies to several cities that are not serviced by other Chinese carriers that fly to Vancouver. Based in the southeastern city of Xiamen, it flies to 55 destinations within mainland China.

The opening up of Vancouver to many new cities via only one connection has become a trend.

Last December, for example, Aeromexico became the only Mexican airline to operate flights out of YVR.

Aeromexico flies to 45 destinations within Mexico. That’s a lot more than the “few beach resorts and Mexico City” that are serviced by Canadian carriers such as Air Canada (TSX:AC) and WestJet (TSX:WJA), Aeromexico’s chief revenue officer, Anko van der Werff, told Business in Vancouver earlier this year.

Air Canada flies to seven destinations in Mexico and has code-share agreements with United Airlines for 23 more routes, but that is much less extensive than Aeromexico’s flight network.

Aeromexico also has a substantial set of connections throughout Central America and South America, van der Werff said.

Carl Jones, the Vancouver Airport Authority’s director of air services development, said it’s “fantastic having Air Canada on routes to Mexico,” but added that “the power that Aeromexico has with its network, domestically and beyond, is significant.”

A third airline that has made travel easier between Vancouver and many cities is Air France, which launched flights between Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport and YVR in March 2015. That airline has direct flights between Paris’ main airport and 24 other French cities.

Before Air France launched its Vancouver flights, non-stop flights between Vancouver and Paris were in demand but were made only by charter airlines, such as Air Transat, on a seasonal basis.

The Air France flights helped visitation to B.C. from French nationals jump 17.6% to 7,966 people in the first five months of 2016, according to Destination British Columbia.

Jones said that a 37.8% jump in visitation from Swiss nationals, to 8,301 people during the first five months of 2016, may also be due to Air France flights, given that Air France flies non-stop to Swiss cities such as Geneva.

YVR’s enhanced air access comes not only from having new carriers, but also from having its existing airlines launch new routes.

Air Canada, which is the airport’s largest carrier, has been the most ambitious on that front.

This spring, Canada’s national airline launched non-stop flights out of YVR to U.S. cities such as Chicago, San Diego and San Jose as well as to Dublin, Ireland. Air Canada in June then launched Canada’s first and only non-stop flight to Brisbane, Australia.

The airline plans to launch Vancouver’s first non-stop flight to India on October 20, in time for Diwali celebrations. •

gkorstrom@biv.com 

@GlenKorstrom

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Labour data deficit looms for B.C. companies tapped into Pacific trade

TRADE | Federal funding withdrawal could mean empty Asia Pacific Gateway Skills Table
With the massive 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal hanging in the balance, Western Canada risks losing an organization that has been dedicated to providing economic information needed to promote trade through Canada’s Pacific ports

The Asia Pacific Gateway Skills Table (APGST) generates industry labour management information. Without that labour supply information, industries, which are the bedrock of Canada’s Asia Pacific trade, are far less well equipped to recognize and react to labour shortages.

The non-profit APGST depends on federal funding that is scheduled to be renewed this fall. But the federal government has yet to confirm whether the funding will be renewed.

ASPGT executive director, Krista Bax, said she’s confident the federal government will continue to support the organization, but added that without that support “our existence will probably dissolve.”

Employment and Development Services Canada (EDSC) provides APGST’s funding.

Evelyne Wildgoose Labrie, EDSC communications officer, said in an email that her organization recognizes the benefits that APGST provides to industry, but did not say whether its funding renewal would be approved.

“Funding is provided on a project basis to successful applicants via open and transparent call for concepts or call for proposals,” she said. “Should the Asia-Pacific Gateway Skills Table respond to future open calls for proposals, their proposals will be assessed on merit and funded if successful.”

The APGST works with industry, labour and education institutions to provide regional and sector-based labour statistics for 34 occupations involved in international trade, including transportation, construction, production and utilities.

It provides information on jobs across the four provinces that make up Canada’s Asia Pacific gateway: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

“The information is very effective because we drill down into very specific areas of the province,” said Manly McLachlan, president of the BC Construction Association and APGST chairman.

He added that APGST takes macro-level information and distils it down to specific elements of the gateway that are relevant to employers, planners, unions and skills instructors.

According to McLachlan, its information is a unique representation of provincial and national labour data that makes it more applicable to specific sectors and regions.

The APGST’s mission is to ensure that the Asia Pacific Gateway has enough people with the right skills to meet its labour needs.

For example, its hiring difficulty index aggregates labour market, worker mobility, immigration, worker experience and labour supply data into a single metric that projects the degree of difficulty employers will face when attempting to hire new employees in upcoming years.

Bax said the information is essential for a port to be effective and productive. Cutting its funding, she said, would consequently reduce that productivity.

“If there are labour issues, and we’re not as efficient of a port as you can get in comparative ports like in Long Beach and Seattle, we’ll lose out,” said Bax. “It’s all about staying competitive, staying productive and having a workforce there to support it.” •

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Study raises concerns over fracking’s impact on BC Hydro dams

Hydro says no chance of fracking causing a dam breach, but damage possible
BC Hydro employees raised concerns about coal bed methane development near the Peace Canyon dam in 2009. Along with fracking, the development had the ability to trigger earthquakes that could damage dams on the Peace River. | Submitted

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is calling for stricter limits on hydraulic fracturing near BC Hydro dams, after a freedom of information request revealed longstanding concerns over the potential for fracking-induced earthquakes to damage Peace River hydroelectric infrastructure.

On Aug. 16, the left-leaning think tank released a report based on internal communications between BC Hydro and the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) dating back to 2009, when concerns arose over coal bed methane development and “induced” seismic events.

Ben Parfitt, a Resource Policy Analyst with the CCPA, said fracking-linked earthquakes have grown in intensity, topping out with a record-setting 4.6 quake linked to Progress Energy drilling last summer.

He said the research highlights the need for firm setbacks between fracking operations and dams. He characterized the existing regulations as unwritten “gentlemen’s agreements” between the OGC and BC Hydro.

“Hydro was very clearly alarmed at the proposed plans (for coal bed methane development) at that time, which called for around 300 wells, some of them in fairly close proximity to its Peace Canyon dam,” he said of emails received in response to an FOI request earlier this year. “The fear within Hydro was it was possible for an induced event from fracking activities to be more powerful than what their Peace Canyon dam was designed to withstand.”

The OGC, however, says the concerns are overstated and that existing regulations adequately protect BC Hydro dams.

In a statement, OGC officials said a five-kilometre buffer zone has been set around the W.A.C. Bennett dam, the Peace Canyon dam and the Site C dam construction site. Neither of BC Hydro’s two existing dams are in the Montney shale play, making future hydraulic fracturing unlikely in the area, the regulator said in an email.

“There are no active hydraulic fracturing operations taking place within the 5 km buffer zone and no new requests for subsurface rights are being accepted within 5 km of the Site C construction area,” the OGC wrote.

While there are drilling rights leases near Site C that predate the buffer, those permits “go through a strict review process.”  

“The Site C location falls within the Montney play and will be built to a high seismic safety standard,” the OGC said. “During (Site C) construction, permit conditions on a well in the Montney may be used to control the timing of hydraulic fracturing operations. All wells in the Montney are double-lined with cement and steel to a depth of 600 meters for further protection.”

In a statement, BC Hydro Deputy CEO Chris O’Riley said that as far as the Crown corporation knows, there has never been fracking within five kilometres of a dam.

“That said, our dams are built to withstand much larger ground motions associated with higher magnitude events that are much longer in duration than fracking,” he said. “All earth-fill dams are purposefully designed to have some seepage. Fracking does have the potential to increase the amount of natural seepage flow around and under these dams, which only poses an issue of increased costs due to maintenance and operation requirements—not a dam safety issue.”

‘New and emergent threat’

The earliest document released in the CCPA’s freedom of information request was a Dec. 2009 letter from then-BC Hydro’s chief safety, health and environment officer Ray Stewart to Comptroller of Water Rights Glen Davidson.

Stewart highlighted the “future potential risks to BC Hydro’s reservoir, dam and power generation infrastructure” from coal bed methane development near Hudson’s Hope.

Coal bed methane development in the area was eventually discontinued. The issue reemerged in March 2013, when Des Hartford, an engineering scientist in BC Hydro’s department of dam safety, wrote to a colleague that fracking was a “new and emergent” threat to dam infrastructure after a cluster of fracking-induced earthquakes in the Hudson’s Hope area.

A year later, the OGC released a report on fracking-triggered earthquake, which found 231 seismic events in the Montney between Aug. 2013 and Nov. 2014 triggered by oil and gas activity. Only 11 of those events were felt at the surface, while just two exceeded 3.5 magnitude.

In the CCPA report, BC Hydro director of dam safety Stephen Rigbey said there was “not a hope” of a fracking-induced earthquake causing a dam breach.

However, “would it do damage and cost me a lot of money? Absolutely,” Rigbey is quoted as saying. “It would cost me a lot of time and a lot of money and that’s what I don’t want to occur.”   

Despite that, Parfitt says the five-kilometre buffer zone remains a “unwritten” agreement between BC Hydro and the OGC. It also falls short of regulations in Alberta, he says. TransAlta, a private power company, has secured written restrictions against fracking within 5 km of its Alberta dams and reservoirs, as well as 10 km setbacks from certain dams.

“The responsible action on the part of a Crown corporation would to be to say ‘look, we don’t believe there’s likely to be any serious impact on dams from this activity but there could be damage to our facilities,’“ Parfitt said. “There could be costs incurred, there is a very remote possibility (earthquakes) could damage the (dam) structures to the point of a failure.” 

The province should “assure the public that (they) are doing everything (they) can, by simply ruling this industrial activity out from these zones,” he said.  

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Business challenges abound for PNE’s annual fair

Pacific Nation Exhibition’s main revenue source seeks to balance innovation with tradition   
Night crowds at the annual Fair at the Pacific National Exhibition; 2015 fair attendance and revenue were both down compared with 2014 | pne

Michael McDaniel has a chronic challenge on his hands when it comes to running the Fair at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE).

“Every annual event in the world has this problem, and the longer they run as an annual event, the more of a problem they have,” said McDaniel, president and CEO of the PNE.

“When you have an annual event that happened last year, that’s going to happen next year and is going to happen 10 years from now and 100 years from now, why do guests need to come this year?”

That’s the $25 million question.

At 106 years old, the fair has established itself as an all-ages Vancouver tradition. Once a year over 15 days, hundreds of thousands of guests visit the park on East Hastings to check out SuperDogs, tour the PNE prize home and indulge in fair food that widens eyes and waistlines – all of which play their part in generating on average $25 million in revenue and attracting some 760,000 guests to the PNE each August.

When it comes to hitting those 10-year averages – as McDaniel plans to do this year – the fair has had to look beyond simply offering fan favourites. 

“Vancouver is a city that you could almost do anything in, any day, within a short, medium or long drive,” said McDaniel, who added that his competition is essentially anything anyone would rather do – be it visiting the beach or heading to Whistler.

“There are too many options to choose from. So what we need to try to do is to cut through all of that so that people commit to coming to the fair,” he said.

For the PNE, that call to action has taken the form of “new and this-year-only” programming.

It includes Alien Worlds and Androids, a free exhibit that explores the science behind robotics and space exploration, and this year’s marquee event, which features magicians from around the world.

The fair, which is scheduled to run from August 20 to September 5, is also bringing the Angry Birds Universe Exhibit to North America: a 20,000-square-foot interactive showcase that allows guests to live the game.

“I’ve never played the game, but I’ve heard of it,” said McDaniel. “What we’re looking for is programming that will have messaging that will penetrate different groups, whether it be the kids, whether it be the parents of the kids, whether it be the grandparents of the kids. We want to have something that speaks to all of them.”

For the fair, “all of them” is everyone between the ages of two and 92, and finding messaging that speaks to people from different cultural, economic and geographic backgrounds has been a challenge the PNE began tackling in 2013 with the launch of its five-year revitalization strategy.

“Rather than taking a mass approach to the PNE, they are trying to be much more refined in their efforts by targeting much more refined market segments,” said Darren Dahl, senior associate dean and director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the University of British Columbia.

“It’s an evolution or a more mature approach to their marketing where they’re actually trying to give out a value proposition to different segments.”

The Fair’s Fun Run – which targeted a lifestyle-focused market segment – was launched last year, and saw 1,400 participants turn out to run through the fairgrounds before the fair opened. It’s back again this year, as is the craft beer fest the PNE developed to attract craft beer drinkers.

“Beer fests are not new anymore, especially in this region, but it was new to the fair,” said McDaniel. “It was a new demographic for us. They didn’t just come for the beer festival, but they came to do that, and before it and after it they took in the rest of the fair.”

McDaniel is now more than halfway through implementing the fair’s revitalization strategy, which aims to turn the event into a must-see attraction. As it stands, the fair is the organization’s largest initiative and responsible for approximately 50% of the PNE’s annual revenue.

Beyond that, McDaniel said the PNE could seek fairer weather by moving the fair to the start of summer, come 2018. The PNE links last year’s windstorm – which left hundreds of thousands of households without power – to a 7.7% drop in revenue and a 12% drop in attendance compared with 2014 figures.

The fair is also part of the larger Playland Redevelopment Plan, which the City of Vancouver initially approved earlier this year, pending a more comprehensive implementation and funding report.

If fully approved, the 10-year, $120 million redevelopment would expand the park to 22 acres from the current 15 acres. At its current size, the fair annually brings in 12 to 17 extra rides to accommodate guest demand. More space would allow the PNE to increase its number of permanent rides – rides that would generate revenue for the PNE rather than outside companies. 

“We were able to turn the discussion around and have everybody realize that you have to have tradition and innovation all wrapped up in one,” said McDaniel. “We’ve got the tradition, we’ve got some of the innovation and we’re working on more.” 

hwoodin@biv.com

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Fisheries minister acts on Cohen commission

New measures to implement Cohen Commission recommendations doesn't include limits on fish farms
Justice Bruce Cohen made 75 recommendations aimed at addressing falling Pacific salmon stocks

If anti fish farm activists were expecting Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc to announce this morning that he would place new curbs on salmon farms on the West Coast, they would have been disappointed.

In a press conference in West Vancouver Aug. 8, LeBlanc announced new measures to make good on commitments to implement the 75 recommendations made by the Cohen Commission in 2012 to protect Pacific wild salmon.

But those measures don’t include shutting down or limiting fish farms, as the anti fish farming lobby might have expected.

In fact, it includes $197 million to increase scientific research and monitoring aimed at improving fish health and to “support sustainable aquaculture.”

The funding, which had been announced earlier in the Liberal government’s first budget, will provide “29 new scientists, biologists, oceanographers, and technicians in the Pacific Region.”

It also includes $7.4 million for a recreational fisheries conservation program, with funding to go to 55 community projects aimed at salmon habitat enhancement and restoration.

LeBlanc also announced a round of consultations with first Nations and other stakeholders – to start this fall – on the implementation of the federal government’s Wild Salmon Policy.

That, at least encouraging, said Craig Orr, conservation adviser for Watershed Watch, if the policy is actually implemented.

“It’s an outstanding policy for conserving genetic diversity of wild salmon,” Orr said. “But it didn’t have a champion in DFO, it didn’t have a budget and it languished because of DFO’s conflicted mandate, where Cohen clearly said you can’t be both a promoter and regulator of salmon farming.”

The $29 million Cohen Commission of Inquiry was struck by the Harper Conservative government in response to the near collapse of Fraser River sockeye in 2009.

Only 1.3 million sockeye returned to the Fraser River that year – the third year in a row where low returns had shut down the commercial fishery.

Anti fish farming activists had hoped the commission would zero in on salmon farms as a principle culprit in the collapse, as there are concerns that Atlantic salmon raised in open net pens are spreading disease and sea lice to wild salmon.

In 2012, Justice Bruce Cohenconcluded there was no smoking gun that could explain why the 2009 Fraser River sockeye run virtually collapsed, although he said there was little doubt that warming ocean and river temperatures resulting from climate change are among the many stressors salmon face in their four-year life cycle.

But he also concluded there was evidence that diseases from fish farms can pass to wild fish and therefore recommends new sighting guidelines.

In 2010, just a year after the Fraser River sockeye run nearly collapsed, B.C. saw one of the largest runs in a century – 29 million fish – which called into question some of the theories that might have explained the previous year’s low numbers.

The commission produced 75 recommendations, 30 of which have alredy been implemented, according to LeBlanc.

nbennett@biv.com

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