Opinion

EDITORIAL: Airport upgrades come at what cost?

Vancouver International Airport Authority president Larry Berg unveiled an ambitious 10-year $1.8 billion plan to keep YVR competitive during the keynote speech at the Vancouver Board of Trade on Wednesday afternoon in Downtown Vancouver. - Martin van den Hemel photo
Vancouver International Airport Authority president Larry Berg unveiled an ambitious 10-year $1.8 billion plan to keep YVR competitive during the keynote speech at the Vancouver Board of Trade on Wednesday afternoon in Downtown Vancouver.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel photo

Wednesday’s announcement that the Vancouver International Airport will be spending $1.8 billion on yet more upgrades, may very well be a great investment at the end of the day.

But the timing of the announcement has put it under the microscope for particularly intense scrutiny for good reason. While other levels of government look for cutbacks while dealing with the worldwide economic slowdown, YVR is splurging.

Airport authority president Larry Berg said the upgrades are necessary to keep the airport ahead in an increasingly competitive arena.

Other regional airports, in Alberta and Washington State, are also desperately trying to attract new business at the expense of YVR.

So Berg said the airport needs to respond to its shortcomings, and the massive 10-year expenditure holds the promise of luring more international carriers to our fair city. And more carriers means more money, perhaps as much as an additional $200 million to the annual economy, along with hundreds or thousands of jobs.

But the upgrades come at a cost.

Specifically, the now hidden but always hated Airport Improvement Fee will be increased 33 per cent, from $15 to $20 for international and domestic travel. The rate for within B.C. remains the same at $5.

And therein lies the rub.

Yet again, the upgrades will be borne on backs of already beleaguered Canadian taxpayers.

Some people already chose to use Seattle as their airport for vacations, who despite the inconvenience are lured by the prospect of saving a few hundred dollars per family on trips.

Could this additional $5 be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back?

Who knows, but therein lies the second rub.

Canadian taxpayers have absolutely no say in the matter.

There’s no public hearing, no way to tell the airport that it’s misguided, no mechanism for accountability.

That hasn’t changed.

And likely never will as long as the airport cuts its annual $80 million rental cheque to Ottawa.

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