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‘Airport-based economy’ key to Richmond's future

Coun. Chak Au would like to see a boost for Richmond’s airport-based economy. - Matthew Hoekstra file photo
Coun. Chak Au would like to see a boost for Richmond’s airport-based economy.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra file photo

A local politician sees “huge opportunities” for Richmond in China, and believes it’s time for the island city to focus on building an airport-based economy.

“I think we should solidify this airport-based economy concept,” said Richmond Coun. Chak Au in an interview. “We should reposition ourselves to be an international trade and business hub.”

On recent trips to China—on his own dime—Au met with government and airport officials to explore the possibility of a direct air connection with sister city Xiamen and linking with a major air cargo hub in Zhengzhou. Xiamen officials have been considering the link, and Zhengzhou is preparing to grow its connections to North America—with an eye on becoming the largest air cargo hub in central China.

Responses have been positive, said Au, who noted Richmond has assets other cities don’t—transportation connections and a skilled workforce—and stands to benefit through jobs and economic spinoffs such as tourism and new markets for business.

“I think all along we haven’t made the best use of those assets,” he said. “We need to strive for diversification and growth. We cannot be complacent.”

Au, who will run for a second council term this fall, returned Friday from China, where he was accompanied by a delegation of local government, business and education representatives. Boosting Richmond’s airport-based economy is a “community project,” said Au, who hopes to establish a local committee to further the concept.

Earlier this year, Vancouver Airport Authority president and CEO Craig Richmond told Richmond council a record number of passengers travelled through YVR last year, with much of the growth coming from Asia.

“Expanding service to Asia, particularly China, and capturing more of the Chinese tourism market, is a tremendous opportunity,” said Richmond. “I think this is the greatest commercial aviation opportunity in history. It’s on our doorstep. The Chinese carriers are tripling the size of their fleets in the next 15 years, and so we can take advantage of that.”

YVR offers a total of 75 flights to China each week—more than any other North American airport—and growing connections with the world’s most populous country is a major plank for YVR.

But not everyone is eager to see the rise of traffic in the air. Coun. Harold Steves has objected to airport growth, citing concerns for the environment—particularly from the risk jet fuel tankers pose for the Fraser River. Last year a consortium of airlines won environmental approval to build a new pipeline through Richmond. Once built, it will be fed by tankers docking near Riverport.

“That’s going to be a very sore point for decades to come,” Steves told the airport’s president.

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