Airport renos: guess who pays?

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It’s springtime, so there’s construction at St. John’s International Airport. Again.

Fresh from construction of the World Parkway, other road reconstruction and expanded — and expensive — parking spaces, the St. John’s Airport Authority is now planning a $243-million expansion, along with a corresponding increase in fees for customers.

But St. John’s is far from alone. In Canada’s airports, you see a tradesperson with a hardhat more frequently than any other uniform.

At the Halifax airport, the departures area has been a wonder of hanging plastic and gyproc dust for months. The Calgary airport is in the midst of a $2-billion expansion. The Vancouver airport is doing so well that it set up an airport management subsidiary, Vantage Airport Group, which operates “nine airports around the world and remains well-positioned for new acquisitions and future growth.”

It is also in the midst of a $1.8-billion expansion and upgrade.

In Montreal, the latest financial report boasts, “The corporation invested a total of $177.4 million in fiscal 2013, compared with $194.7 million in 2012.”

And on and on it goes.

At the heart of it all, though, is the collection of airport improvement fees, a fee collected from a captive audience — customers who have no choice but to pay, every time they depart from the airport.

Hiking the airport improvement fee to $30 from $20 will put St. John’s at the very top of the airport improvement fee ladder, according to an online list posted by Air Canada: of 59 Canadian airports, only Bathurst, N.B. — at $40 — would be more expensive, although several are now bellying up to the $30 mark.

It means that, every time a full-loaded Westjet Boeing 737-700 takes off from St. John’s for Halifax or Toronto, it will have collected another $4,000 in fees from the passengers on board.

Here’s what others say about the fees.

“The Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority has been collecting an airport improvement fee (AIF) since Sept. 1, 1999. The $23 fee for each enplaned passenger, which is collected on the authority’s behalf by the airlines, is used to pay for major infrastructure projects. The AIF will be discontinued when AIF-funded projects have been completed and the associated debt retired.”

At Toronto’s Pearson Airport, fees continue as well: “We’re committed to the continued improvement of Toronto Pearson. … (While) construction on the recent redevelopment of Toronto Pearson is complete, the debt associated with the work remains on our balance sheets.”

And at our airport?

“The airport authority is contractually obligated to only use the AIF to finance capital projects that are required to construct or improve airport infrastructure that will directly benefit air travellers.”

One thing that everyone agrees on at airports across the country: improvement fees are at the heart of the endless modernization of Canada’s airports.

Will the projects and debt ever end?

That seems unlikely. When you think about it, the financial incentive is to just keep building and building.

Organizations: Vantage Airport Group, Air Canada, Westjet Boeing 737 Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport Authority Pearson Airport

Geographic location: Canada, World Parkway, Halifax Calgary Vancouver Toronto Montreal

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Recent comments

  • Maxwell J.
    April 30, 2014 - 20:14

    Governments, at least, can be voted out when they begin to treat the taxpayer like their personal ABM. Not so these corporations created by government to download their costs on them and buffer politicians from the fallout of bad decisions. What do you do about a port authority or an airport authority that surmise they can do what they want because nobody is looking at them - and even if they are there is nothing they can do about it.

    April 30, 2014 - 08:55

    My thoughts exactly. They are as bad as city hall, spend more so you can charge more. When have you been to the airport that the place is blocked with people, never, except in the early morning when most of the flights are leaving. Double the size of the airport, so they can hire more administrators, to drive up cost more. They are taking their cue from Doc O'Keefe, he wants a world class city, they want a world class airport, but remember there is only 100,000 of us that live in St. John's. We don't have the population to be world class, I guess they don't understand that.