This article was originally published in the January-February 2018 issue of Aviation News Journal.
Over the past two decades, Abbotsford Airport has grown tremendously in terms of passenger traffic, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Let us take a look at the remarkable history and exciting future of this bustling British Columbian airport.
In 1940, a few months after World War II had begun, the Royal Canadian Air Force (rcaf) purchased the land on which the airport now stands. By 1943, three runways had been constructed and the airport had become home to a flight training school, equipped with Fairchild PT-19 Cornells, as well as an operational training unit with Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers. Flight training was conducted as part of the enormous wartime British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
After the war, the rcaf stopped using the airport and it was closed for most of the 1950s. During this time, it was used for other purposes, such as drag racing and housing for refugees. In 1958, the airport was transferred to the Department of Transport, with one of the hangars converted into a terminal building with offices for administration and facilities for customs and immigration. Two years later, a control tower became operational to manage ifr traffic diverted from Vancouver International Airport.
The first Abbotsford Airshow took place in 1962, with 15 000 spectators attending the show over two days. Over the next few years, the airshow gained considerable momentum, becoming more popular and featuring military jets and formation teams. In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau opened the airshow and Conair Aviation Limited established its base of operations at the airport. Today, it continues to operate from Abbotsford Airport as one of the largest aerial firefighting aircraft operators in the world.
Not quite aviation related, but in September 1984 the airport made news headlines, when Pope John Paul ii used it as a location to address more than 200 000 people. January 1997 marked the beginning of a new chapter for the airport, when ownership was transferred from the Department of Transport to the City of Abbotsford for the sum of $10.
Later that year, Abbotsford Airport became a jet passenger airport, with WestJet completing its inaugural flight to Abbotsford. About 3 000 passengers made use of the airport that year prior to WestJet launching service from Abbotsford. The arrival of airlines, such as WestJet, sparked the tremendous growth at Abbotsford Airport which has continued over the past twenty years. A new terminal building was constructed in 1997 and expanded again in 2001 respectively, with runway 07-25 extended to 9 600 ft in 2005. During the following year, more than half a million passengers made use of the airport. More recently, in 2011, significant upgrades to the value of $30 million were completed.
Abbotsford Airport certainly has an eventful history, but what does the future hold and what is the secret to its growth? Parm Sidhu has been employed at the airport since 2001 and has served as airport manager from 2015. According to Sidhu, Abbotsford Airport is an economic enabler, providing its partners with a competitive platform. Referring to airlines and partners that operate from the airport, he said, “Their growth really builds our brand and builds our airport. As they grow, we grow. We give them a platform from which they can grow.”
Several of Abbotsford’s partners, such as Cascade Aerospace, Conair Aviation, Chinook Helicopters, Alpine Aerotech, Campbell Helicopters, Marshall Aerospace and Coastal Pacific Aviation, are significant role-players in bc’s aerospace industry, providing about 1 500 jobs in the industry. “Their success is our success,” Sidhu emphasized. Needless to say, the airport has a tremendous local and regional economic impact.
Despite the increase in airlines choosing to make use of the airport, it continues to have a remarkably diverse range of aircraft and operators. “Everyone has a home here, including general aviation, flight training and the annual airshow,” said Sidhu. “We are open to all sectors of aviation.”
In terms of fixed-wing or helicopter flight training, there are several benefits to choosing Abbotsford Airport. “You are gaining experience from elements ranging from long runways to parallel taxiways, to military and commercial aircraft. You are receiving a diverse education here,” he said. “The training area is one of the higher standard ones because of the complexity of the airspace.”
In 2017, more than 650,000 passengers passed through the airport terminal, and it is estimated that more than a million passengers per year could be making use of Abbotsford Airport by 2020. As a result, travellers will see significant changes taking place at the airport during 2018. Two boarding gates will be added to the three currently in use, while seating in the secure area will be increased from 300 to 600. Meanwhile, a significant amount of new hangar space will be made available to operators.
To those at Abbotsford, 2018 will no doubt be one of the most exciting and noteworthy years in the history of this unique airport.