More money, more airport: YYT defends improvement fee increase

More money, more airport: YYT defends improvement fee increase

More washrooms, more places to grab a snack and an overall nicer departures area — these are some of the reasons YYT's airport improvement fee (AIF) is increasing to $35, according to the St. John's International Airport Authority.

"Once you go through security, there is a big lack of seating … there's a lack of food concessions and whatnot," says Art Cheeseman, chair of the airport authority's board of directors.

"The airport that's presently there was designed to accommodate 900,000 passengers annually and in 2016, we're actually up to 1.6 million passengers."

The AIF increase will add an extra $5 effective July 1, and will be used to cover some of the projects outlined in the 10-year, $200-million expansion plan.

"Our only means of supporting capital improvements is through the collection of AIF which every passenger [flying out of St. John's] pays on their ticket," Cheeseman told CBC Radio's On The Go.

"That's the only source of revenue that we have to be able to pay off our debts related to financing these capital improvements … We've only collected enough to support paying off roughly less than 60 per cent of the debt we've incurred to date."

Dubious distinction

The increase means St. John's International will have the second-highest AIF in Canada — only the $40 charge at Bathurst, N.B., (ZBF) is steeper.

Even bigger airports, like Ottawa (YOW) and Montreal (YUL), charge less, at $23 and $25, respectively.

"A lot of it has to do with timing of capital improvements. A lot of the [other airports] have improvements took place years ago," said Cheeseman. 

He said the airport authority has taken "a very conservative approach" to expanding the airport.

Cheeseman said passenger growth is the foundation to the expansion — and that growth has been good, even in tough economic times.

"Last year, our overall passenger traffic increased by 4.3 per cent and during the summer months, it even went as high as 10 per cent," said Cheeseman.

Security step up

Additional money will be spent on a new security screening area, which Cheeseman said is part of several new requirements from the federal government.

"One of the most recent ones is that any equipment that we, as an airport authority, send out on the apron and runways, all that equipment has to go through a screening process," he said.

"So we've actually had to build a major screening facility, close to $5 million by the time we get it finished."

Cheeseman said the expansion plans to the departures and screening area are scheduled to be completed by April 2018.