Transforming the Edmonton International Airport into a destination

When was the last time you lingered – by choice – at the Edmonton International Airport? In the future, you might.

New EIA Air Traffic Control Tower

Earlier this month I attended a tour of the Edmonton International Airport called Taste of EIA with Sharon and Rebecca. We spent the evening eating, sampling some of what the airport has to offer passengers who aren’t rushing to catch their flight. If you’re more interested in hearing about the food, be sure to check out their posts. I’ll touch on it, but I’m going to focus more on how Taste of EIA fits into the bigger strategy for the airport.

EIA has set an “ambitious goal” of reaching 12 million passengers by 2020, according to its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan (PDF). That is ahead of third party projections of 11 million, but seems achievable if recent increases continue (as of June, numbers for 2015 are slightly behind the same time last year).

EIA Passenger Statistics
Stats via EIA, and do not count fixed base operators (FBO) passengers

You might be tempted to compare EIA to YYC, which surpassed 12 million passengers back in 2007. And while passenger traffic at EIA has been growing quickly, so is passenger traffic in Calgary. It seems unlikely that EIA is going to surpass or even compete with YYC anytime soon, so the strategy needs to be different.

EIA wants to become a destination, by focusing on passengers, creating exceptional customer experiences, and by developing non-aeronautical initiatives. You can see the building blocks coming together to make that happen. There’s the Renaissance Hotel at EIA so you can stay at the airport. There’s “over 60 shops and restaurants” available now to passengers. There’s the extensive parking options to make coming and going easier. And there’s the growing list of services and amenities, like free wi-fi, banking, storage, and plenty of power outlets.

Taste of EIA

So can it work?

I’ll admit I’m the kind of traveler who likes to arrive as close to departure as possible, at least when I’m traveling on my own. I’ve heard my name called for final boarding on a few occasions. My goal is generally to spend as little time as possible in airports – I just want to get in and get out. There have been some exceptions, however. The last time I flew to the US I went early because I knew I could get some work done with free wi-fi, Starbucks, and comfortable seating on the other side of security. I’ve never really thought about going to have a meal first though.

Taste of EIA

On the night we visited for Taste of EIA we ate at three places: Houston Steak & Ribs, Belgian Beer Cafe, and Cookies by George. Definitely the latter is my usual kind of airport stop, a quick coffee and a cookie suit me fine. But if I wanted to linger, I’d consider stopping at Houston, if for no other reason than the view (it looks out on the runways). I didn’t find the food particularly unique, but the sliders were good and came with delicious sweet potato fries. I’d order those again.

Taste of EIA

But will I really choose to go early and eat? I’m not sure. Maybe with Sharon.

I suppose it would help to sign up for EIA Rewards which offers members 25% discounts at the Plaza Premium Lounge and monthly discounts for parking, shopping, and dining. You can also win prizes like free parking or even flights. The program is free to join and is just another way that EIA is working to attract regular patrons to help increase non-aeronautical revenue.

Another way they are hoping to increase revenue is by adopting the “aerotropolis” model of commercial development (just like in Vancouver, Memphis, and Amsterdam).

“EIA is one of two Canadian airports to adopt the ‘aerotropolis’ concept. We are now transforming EIA from an ‘emerging aerotropolis’ to an ‘operational aerotropolis’ through developments such as the Cargo Village and Highway Commercial.”

Think of the aerotropolis model as a mini commercial city, but with the airport as the core. For EIA, it means expansion of the Cargo Village, the development of an office campus, possibly another hotel, light industrial activity, and other retail opportunities. They might even build a pet hotel!

Outlet Collection at Niagara
Walking into Outlet Collection at Niagara

The big project you’ve already heard about is the Highway Commercial, which refers to the proposed, 415,000-square-foot outlet mall that will be built by Ivanhoé Cambridge (the developers behind CrossIron Mills) next to Highway 2. That shopping centre will be serviced by a shuttle from the airport and is slated to open in the fall of 2017. I’m hopeful that it’ll be similar to the Outlet Collection at Niagara in terms of design, with lots of open, outdoor space.

But that’s a future project and of course by being outside the airport it’ll be open to anyone, not just passengers. Still, it could be another reason to spend time and money at EIA. And that’s ultimately what they’re after in the quest to become a destination.

In the meantime, there are plenty of shops and restaurants at EIA for you to experience. If you give yourself the time to do so, of course!

You can see more photos from Taste of EIA here.

Edmonton’s International Airport is well-positioned for growth in 2014 and beyond

Last year was a good one for the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) with a record-breaking 6.9 million passengers served. Additionally, corporate charter flights from the private terminals increased 30%.

“These record-breaking numbers show that Edmonton International Airport completed its expansion just in time. EIA is a not-for-profit corporation that works for the benefit of our region. To foster economic growth, both air service and our airport facilities must keep pace with demand from our region,” said EIA Vice President of Passenger Market Development Traci Bednard.

There were other positives in 2013 too. Non-stop service to New York City began in May, the new NAV CANADA Air Traffic Control Tower began operations in the spring, Icelandair announced service between Edmonton and Reykjavik, and a new Dallas/Fort Worth flight was announced.

New EIA Air Traffic Control Tower

According to EIA itself, 2013 was its second straight record-breaking year, following strong increases in 2011 and 2012 (other statistics are available here). Thing is, air traffic is up around the world, and EIA wasn’t the only airport to report a record-breaking 2013; Montreal’s Trudeau Airport, the Victoria International Airport, and dozens of international airports did as well. Many others have yet to report figures. I wanted to see EIA’s growth in context, so I went to Statistics Canada to get the data.

Here’s a look at EIA’s passenger traffic growth since 1995 (using data from Statistics Canada, except for 2013, which comes from EIA directly):

eia passenger traffic

Here’s what the year-over-year change has looked like in that same period:

eia passenger traffic change

The massive spike in 1996 was of course due to the consolidation of scheduled service at EIA. In the 2001-2003 period, after 9/11, EIA experienced a slowdown in traffic just as airports everywhere did. Since then, EIA has grown significantly, from about 3 million passengers a year to nearly 7 million in 2013.

I wondered what EIA’s passenger traffic growth has looked like compared with other airports in Canada. Again using figures from Statistics Canada, here’s a look at ten Canadian airports:

airport passenger traffic

What stands out for me is that EIA broke away from the pack in the mid-2000s to become the clear #5 airport behind Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Calgary. There was a slowdown in growth between 2008 and 2010, but EIA seems to have turned things around.

Though passengers are the metric we often think of, aircraft movements is another that is useful to track. One movement is a landing or takeoff of an aircraft and an itinerant movement is essentially a flight from one airport to another. Here’s a look at the itinerant movements for the same airports:

airport movements

Here EIA isn’t as clearly the #5 airport, though it has moved up significantly from the mid-2000s and is now approaching 300,000 itinerant movements per year.

Expansion 2012

If current trends continue, EIA should finally break the 7-million-passengers-per-year milestone in 2014, and the airport’s prospects for growth beyond that look encouraging. I certainly feel that the Expansion 2012 project has resulted in a more attractive, functional airport, and the numbers seem to support that. It’s also a similar sentiment that I often hear Edmontonians express. They’re proud of the airport now, whereas they weren’t before. Future expansion plans will not only add capacity, but will also bring a new hotel and an outlet shopping mall to EIA. And certainly Edmonton’s hot economy will continue to push usage ever higher. Altogether, it makes the outlook for EIA look very good indeed.

For more on EIA’s impressive 2013, check out the press release here.

Edmonton’s New First Impression

About six years ago I travelled to Los Angeles for the Portable Media Expo. We had a great time at the event and got to spend a little bit of time afterward doing some sightseeing. I don’t remember much of that, to be honest, but there is one experience that has always stuck with me: my first impression upon arriving at LAX. Having never been to Los Angeles before, the picture I had in my head of the city and everything in it was modern and glamorous. I mean, it’s a famous city and is home to Hollywood, right? That picture applied to LAX itself too, especially considering its iconic airport code. The reality was much different, however. The part of the airport that we experienced seemed small, old, unattractive, and dirty. It certainly wasn’t a positive first impression.

For a long time, I think you could say the same about Edmonton’s airport. Things got a little better with the last expansion, but I still find that the first impression leaves much to be desired. You’ve probably heard the saying that “first impressions are lasting impressions” and I think that’s particularly true when you visit a new city. Even if a visitor makes it to the Art Gallery of Alberta, the river valley, or any of the other memorable attractions that Edmonton has to offer, it can be incredibly difficult to get over a negative first impression at the airport, especially considering you have to go through the facility again to leave.

That’s one of the reasons that I am particularly excited about Expansion 2012. It will change visitors’ first impressions upon arriving in Edmonton for the better.

When you fly through an airport like Heathrow in London, you rarely have to wait for your bags after arriving. That’s because it takes so long to walk from the gate to the baggage carousel – the airport is just so big! In Edmonton, you almost always arrive at the baggage carousel before your bags do. That frustrates travellers and contributes to the poor first impression. With Expansion 2012, the walk in from the gate will take longer, and that should mean less waiting around for your bags.

Expansion 2012

But don’t worry, chances are you won’t even notice that the walk takes longer. That’s due in part to the moving walkways that have been installed, but more importantly it is because of Flightpath, a digital light and sound system created by Electroland (of Los Angeles, wouldn’t you know it). The interactive installation features motion sensors that pick up movement and activate the sound and LED lights. It’s kind of hard to describe, so here it is in action:

At the end of the Interstitial Corridor is the new entrance, with Canada Customs on the main level (opening this summer) and the new International/Domestic Lounge on the second level (opening this fall). It’s big, open, bright, and inviting – everything our current entrance is not. Prominently featured is The Living Wall, a two-storey green wall that will serve double duty as an art piece and an air filtration system. Coming this summer is The Raven: Bringer of Light, a ceiling-hung stainless steel and embossed acrylic sculpture created by Michael Hayden that is 30 feet by 18 feet and weighs 3500 pounds. It sounds impressive, and I can’t wait to see it.

Expansion 2012

Airports need to be functional first and foremost, but they can’t stop there. A city’s airport plays a significant role in shaping a visitor’s opinions, and as such needs to deliver an experience that is both relaxing and memorable. Expansion 2012 no doubt makes the Edmonton International Airport more functional, but it also delivers a much improved first impression for visitors. That’s ultimately good for both EIA and for Edmonton.

You can check out a few more photos in my Expansion 2012 photoset.

Free Wireless Internet Lands at the Edmonton International Airport

Since 2004, the Edmonton International Airport has offered wireless Internet access, for a fee. As at many other airports, it was operated by Boingo. Unless you were already a Boingo subscriber, it just wasn’t worth it to get connected for an hour or two, and many people griped (myself included) about the lack of free wi-fi at the airport, especially as other airports increasingly offered it. Starting today, passengers have one less thing to complain about: EIA now offers free wi-fi access throughout the entire airport!

I wanted to learn more about the service and how it came to be, so I sat down with Reagan Winchester, EIA’s Director of IT, to find out. He was quite excited about the free wi-fi, even though it was a challenging project to implement. We started with some background.

It turns out that there wasn’t any broadband Internet access at EIA until Reagan’s team brought in two very large connections from Shaw and Telus. Once those were in place, EIA built a mini DSL network, and started selling access to its tenants in order to recoup the costs (one of its customers was, of course, Boingo). That worked, but everyone still managed their own hardware and services. Over time, it became clear that the many separate networks that existed at EIA (security, flight information, etc) would be better served if they were integrated, running off the same infrastructure, without each tenant having to worry about hardware and maintenance. So EIA started building out a Campus Area Network. Importantly, wi-fi was a key component of the network. With that infrastructure in place, the primary technical hurdle to offering free Internet access went away.

Another hurdle was convincing management that EIA should be offering something for free that previously they had been charging for. Under the deal with Boingo (which expired in June 2009), EIA made only a little bit of money. Boingo installed the access points and managed everything, so they kept most of the revenue. Now with its own wireless access in place, EIA had a few options: offer its own paid wireless, offer ad supported wireless, or offer completely free wireless. One of the tools they used to make that decision was the Airport Service Quality survey results. If you look at ASQ scores, Canadian airports with free wi-fi (like Vancouver) are in the top ten in North America with an average score of 3.61/4, whereas airports with paid wi-fi are in the 20-30 range with an average score of 3.06/4. Of all the different categories that airports are scored on, EIA performed worst compared to others in wi-fi category. So that made it clear that by offering free wi-fi, EIA could improve its ASQ score quite a bit. Further investigation revealed that airports with ad supported wi-fi scored 3.59/4, so the ability to have a little bit of cost recovery and still improve ASQ scores meant that in the end, EIA decided to go with ad supported wi-fi.

The new wireless network itself is managed by EIA, with the gateway and public facing stuff being provided by Boldstreet (the same company that Starbucks and Second Cup use at their locations). Boingo has at least 36 Cisco Aironet access points at EIA, but they’re old and only support 802.11b, so they’re pretty slow (they’ll remain accessible until August 31, 2010). EIA is using Meru access points (with Foundry hardware on the wired side), which support 802.11 a/b/g/n, and there are 31 deployed throughout the airport currently. That’s just a fraction of the more than 300 that they plan to install! The idea is to have VOIP-level wireless, which means three overlapping access points, with five bars everywhere. I tried connecting in the tower (which doesn’t have any access points currently) and I got four bars, so I was quite impressed!

To connect to the free wi-fi, look for the EIA_FREE_WIFI network. On devices like laptops, you’ll get presented with a splash screen that you need to login to. You can either choose anonymous access for 15 minutes (after which you go back to the splash screen and can choose it again), login with Facebook, login with your carrier account (Bell, Telus, Rogers, etc), or you can get a password sent to you via SMS. The authentication helps ensure that the network is not abused. On devices like cell phones that support voice over wi-fi, the authentication step can be skipped. There is no content or port filtering once you’re connected.

I’m really happy that EIA now offers free wireless Internet access. It’s such a positive thing for Edmontonians who are waiting to fly out, and for visitors to our city whose first impression is the airport. To celebrate, EIA is encouraging people to become fans on Facebook. If you do it before August 13, you’ll be entered to win a $1000 travel voucher, a 32 GB iPod, or free parking.

Congrats to EIA on making free wi-fi a reality!

Airport Passenger Statistics for Edmonton & Calgary

Earlier this evening I was a guest on The Lesley Primeau Show on 630 CHED. Along with Brittney, we talked about Twitter. That went pretty much as expected – Lesley doesn’t hate social media, but she doesn’t get it either.

While waiting for the show to get started, we were talking about the Edmonton City Centre Airport (ECCA). I’m in favor of closing “the muni” while Lesley very clearly favors the status quo, or perhaps even restoring scheduled service to ECCA. She feels that Edmonton needs an airport downtown to become a great city – I think we need density in the centre, not an airport.

Things got slightly heated when Lesley said that the only growth the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) has seen was from the consolidation back in 1995. She also said that EIA will never rival the Calgary International Airport, and that growth there has been far stronger. I challenged her on both of these assertions (and have heard others make them recently). Lesley said I needed to do my homework, that I was wrong.

So I did my homework. I wasn’t wrong.

Let’s start with the first myth – that EIA’s growth has only come at the expense of ECCA. Here are the annual passenger numbers for each airport from 1995 to 2008 (I’m going with scheduled passenger numbers, which is why ECCA is 0 after 1996):

Here they are in table format:

YEAR EIA ECCA
1995 1943797 835612
1996 3104322 417002
1997 3720623 0
1998 3791574 0
1999 3700016 0
2000 3843321 0
2001 3940416 0
2002 3773800 0
2003 3882497 0
2004 4081565 0
2005 4511451 0
2006 5213992 0
2007 6065117 0
2008 6437334 0

What can learn from those numbers? The key years are 1995-97, obviously (the plebiscite vote took place on October 16, 1995). Passenger traffic at EIA, which had been stagnant since the early 1980s at about 2 million passengers per year, increased by more than the amount that passenger traffic at ECCA decreased. Passenger traffic at ECCA decreased by 835,612 from 1995 to 1997, while passenger traffic at EIA increased by 1,776,826.

Clearly there was something besides consolidation that caused traffic at EIA to increase. Growth at EIA leveled off from 1998 until 2002, but you’ll recall that was a difficult time for the airline industry – Edmonton was not alone.

Now let’s look at the second myth – that Edmonton will always be second to Calgary. Here are the annual passenger numbers for EIA and YYC from 1996 to 2008:

Here they are in table format:

YEAR EIA YYC
1996 3104322 6967571
1997 3720623 7547156
1998 3791574 7731034
1999 3700016 8010883
2000 3843321 8090426
2001 3940416 7794519
2002 3773800 7884194
2003 3882497 8576541
2004 4081565 9174039
2005 4511451 10148718
2006 5213992 11279080
2007 6065117 12265754
2008 6437334 12507111

Calgary is definitely busier than Edmonton – nearly twice as busy. Edmonton is in a better position today relative to Calgary than it was in 1996, however. It’s a little difficult to tell from the graph/table above, but Edmonton’s growth overall since 1996 is actually stronger than Calgary’s. Here are the annual percentage increases:

In total, passenger traffic at EIA has increased 107% since 1996, whereas passenger traffic at YYC has increased 80% since 1996.

Is that enough to suggest that Edmonton can emerge from the shadow of Calgary, at least when it comes to their respective airports? Maybe, maybe not. But the data clearly shows that YYC isn’t light years beyond EIA as some would like to suggest.

As an aside, while doing my research I found statistics for EIA for three more years: 394000 in 1962, 755000 in 1973, and 1100000 in 1974.

The public hearing on the City Centre Airport continues tomorrow at City Hall. You can see my resources post here.

Sources: EIA Website, EIA Passenger Statistics, YYC Website, Calgary Airport Statistics, numerous EIA press releases, Wikipedia, Tourism Calgary.

Edmonton International Airport launches new brand

eia - we'll move you The Edmonton International Airport’s (EIA) new “we’ll move you” brand actually launched earlier this month on May 8th, but I didn’t see a commercial for it until this week. I haven’t had to fly anywhere either, so I’m not sure if the new brand is prominently displayed at the airport itself or not.

The new brand is meant to bring awareness to the fact that EIA is growing:

The new brand and airport expansion program reflect EIA’s shift from a small, regional airport to a medium-sized international airport serving Northwestern Canada. EIA is Canada’s fastest-growing major airport for two years in a row and now serves over six million passengers annually, a nearly 50 per cent increase in just three years.

The “we’ll move you” philosophy also underpins the $1.1-billion expansion program and current initiatives to incorporate industry-leading technologies, including common-use, self-serve check-in kiosks, Pay & Go parking stations, the expedited customs clearance program NEXUS and a host of others.

The expansion is expected to be completely by 2012 and should enable EIA to service nine million passengers annually. A key aspect to the expansion is a brand new control tower. Our airport is finally getting some food outlets too, including another Tim Horton’s and two Starbucks.

In addition to the branding, they’ve got a new URL: http://www.flyeia.com. It simply redirects to http://www.edmontonairports.com. Reminds me of Edmonton Transit’s http://www.takeets.com address, which I find far easier to remember than anything else.

I like the new logo and colors. Fresh and bright, the new design definitely makes EIA feel more modern than the old navy blue and red.

You can learn more about the changes happening at EIA here.

En Route to San Antonio

I’m traveling to San Antonio today for the 2008 Questionmark Users Conference, taking place through Wednesday at the Westin Riverwalk. I didn’t find out I would be attending until late this week, so the flight options were pretty limited. I was scheduled to leave Edmonton this morning at 6 AM.

I left my house a little later than I wanted to, meaning I didn’t get to the airport until just before 5 AM. That would normally have been okay (though cutting it close), except that the self-service check-in machines were all down. So I got in the incredibly long line and started to wait. I gave up on that after about ten minutes, jumped into the first class/business line, and pleaded my case.

The service agent was really helpful, and she helped rebook me on a later flight. Frankly I was fairly surprised at how busy the airport was so early on a Sunday morning. Anyway, I’m in Denver now, on a long layover. I should arrive into San Antonio tonight at around 6:30 CDT.

The great thing about the Denver International Airport is that they have free, ad-supported wireless Internet – something I wish we had in Edmonton. I’ve been using it for a while now, and it seems pretty quick. Uploads are really fast actually, faster than my connection at home, at least to Flickr! I uploaded a bunch of pictures from Megan’s birthday celebration last night. Happy Birthday Megan 🙂

More later!

In Calgary Once Again

Seems we end up in Calgary for almost every trip we take (except for Northern Voice). Fortunately there is free wireless Internet here, so I am not complaining. Well, at least it makes the travelling a little better. This is our insane flight schedule:

  • 9:00 PM – Depart Edmonton
  • 9:45 PM – Arrive Calgary
  • 12:32 AM – Depart Calgary
  • 6:17 AM – Arrive Toronto
  • 8:30 AM – Depart Toronto
  • 9:30 AM – Arrive Ottawa

Currently we’re scheduled to come back on the 24th, but we’re going to try to change that to the 26th. Preferrably, the 26th departing from Toronto, as we’re planning to drive from Ottawa to Toronto on the 25th for business and to meet up with some people. I’m hoping we can get the flights worked out anyway!

We’re in Tim Horton’s at the moment, as it was the only food establishment open (unsurprisingly). Seems those 24 hour McDonalds express locations would be perfect for an airport!

More on the trip later…

Twelve Hours to Inuvik

Tom and I left Edmonton at 10 AM yesterday morning, as scheduled. We got to the airport relatively early, watched the sports news while we waited, and everything was going good. When we gave the people at the gate our boarding passes, we were told that our flight was “green stickered” for Inuvik, which meant that we were landing subject to weather. The last time my Mom flew, she had the same thing happen. In fifteen years of flying to and from Inuvik, I don’t ever recall a plane not being able to land.

We arrived in Yellowknife on time, the only stop between Edmonton and Inuvik, and we had to get off the plane. Tom seemed to think that was weird, saying usually we’re allowed to stay on the plane while they add some cargo and take some off, and get any new passengers. So we got off the plane, and it wasn’t very long before we were informed that our flight had been canceled due to poor weather in Inuvik. They told us the runway was in poor condition, and it was extremely foggy. Then we found out we’d be able to fly out of Yellowknife at 9:45 PM, almost 8 hours after we should have landed in Inuvik.

So Tom and I spent from noon yesterday until around 10:15 PM when the flight finally left in the Yellowknife airport, some pictures of which are here. You might think that’s not so bad, but with no Internet, only a few power outlets, no coffee shops or restaurants except for one that is mostly a bar, and absolutely no TV’s, people, or anything really, it was kind of dumb. Tom played FIFA 06 on his laptop while I tracked down open network ports and tried to get online. Throughout our time in the airport, we started to find out more and more about our canceled flight, from other people who came and went, and from my parents on the phone.

We were on First Air, and the other airline that flys to Inuvik is Canadian North. We found out that Canadian North landed in Inuvik at 2:30 PM, and hour later than scheduled, but only 15 minutes after our flight was supposed to land. So clearly, weather in Inuvik was not an issue. After we got to Inuvik at midnight, it became clear that First Air knew all along we wouldn’t be landing in the afternoon, and the weather excuse was exactly that, an excuse. Needless to say, I was not amused.

Anyway, I am in Inuvik now, finally. I don’t remember it being so dry here, but I keep shocking myself everywhere! There is so much snow it’s insane. Not as cold as it could be, but still cold. I haven’t really been anywhere in town yet, but already I have seen so much different. Lots of new hotels for the pipeline project. In fact, there are about 350 hotels room in a town of only 3000 people – insanity. More later!