April 11, 2023
How Will YVR Handle the Next Blizzard?

Tamara Vrooman

President and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority

Ms. Vrooman was appointed Chairperson of the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) in January 2021. In addition to her role as the Chairperson of the CIB, Tamara is also currently CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR), Canada’s second-busiest airport. Prior to this, Tamara was President and CEO of Vancity, Canada’s largest community credit union, and Deputy Minister of Finance for the Province of British Columbia and as Secretary to the Treasury Board and CEO of the Public Sector Employers’ Council.

Tamara spent 13 years as the President and CEO of Vancity, Canada’s largest community credit union with $28 billion in assets in administration, including corporate and commercial financing divisions. She assumed leadership of Vancity at the beginning of the global financial crisis and transformed the business and service model, delivering record profitability and doubling its assets.

Prior to joining Vancity, Tamara served as Deputy Minister of Finance for the Province of British Columbia and as Secretary to the Treasury Board and CEO of the Public Sector Employers’ Council where she oversaw the government’s annual $100 billion borrowing and cash requirements, led the Ministry of Finance to three AAA credit rating upgrades, and developed its $36 billion fiscal plan and the province’s first P3 Capital Project. Tamara also served as Deputy Minister and Executive Financial Officer for the Ministry of Health, which, under her leadership, achieved its first balanced budget in 16 years.

Her expertise has been sought by organizations, leaders and governments at all levels— regional, provincial, national and international—whether on the economy, social change, or environmental sustainability, and often at the intersection of all three. Most recently, Tamara was appointed Simon Fraser University’s 12th Chancellor.

Tamara pursued post-secondary education at the University of Victoria, earning a Master of Arts in History in 1994 and a Bachelor of Arts with honours in 1991. She also received an Honorary Doctorate (Laws) from Simon Fraser University in 2016 and an Honorary Doctorate (Technology) from the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 2013.

Transcription of Presentation

Tamara Vrooman was introduced by Rick Brenner, a retired Air Canada pilot.

Next to healthcare, aviation suffered the most significant effects of the pandemic. Prior to Covid, YVR welcomed around 27 million passengers annually. But this number dropped to virtually zero during the height of the pandemic, except for some flights for medical emergencies, repatriation requirements, and humanitarian needs.

Fortunately, YVR has experienced a significant rebound in passenger growth, with an unprecedented 168% increase in just eight months from January to August 2022. Even with this growth, the airport’s overall passenger volume has not yet fully returned to pre-pandemic levels; however, travellers feel the airport is more congested than ever. Part of this is due to the slower rate of the build-back. Still, there are also fundamental factors affecting airport operations, some of which were pre-sent even before the pandemic, just more apparent now.

There are four primary factors that are contributing to the current situation at YVR. First, the labour environment is much different post-pandemic, with four jobs available for every person, particularly in frontline essential service positions. Second, YVR runs three different terminals, each with different security, safety, and immigration regimes. YVR’s international terminal, which expanded and opened in September 2020, saw the lowest build-back. While there has been an excellent return to passenger volumes going to Europe, the major Chinese market has not. Pre-pandemic, YVR had eight different Chinese carriers flying to the airport, but geopolitical and economic changes have meant that this market is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. On the flip side, other markets are opening up. For example, Canada and the United Arab Emirates recently signed a bilateral aviation treaty allowing service between YVR and Dubai for the first time. Recent opportunities for direct flights to Fiji, Istanbul and Bangkok are also opening up new markets. The third major change is around the type of aircraft. During the pandemic, almost every airline cut down on their most inefficient aircraft, favouring more nimble, fuel-efficient small planes over the larger aircraft that were trending pre-2020. These smaller planes mean more planes, which require more pavement for parking, more gate changes, more baggage vehicles, and overall more busyness for the same volume of passengers. Lastly, because airlines are trying to build back their revenue, they are increasing their most popular routes during the most sought-after hours – for example, 8 am flights to Toronto or Ottawa. This means that for 20 minutes a day, YVR is as busy as Heathrow, but at other times, it feels like a ghost town.

With 26,000 employees and 70,000 passengers, YVR is the size of a midsized Canadian city. It’s very complex, and the previous model they were operating under is unsustainable. The airport is investing in changes to better serve people and to adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic and climate change.

YVR was the only airport in North America to commission a formal afteraction review after the famous five-day event in December. Public engagement was part of this review for the first time in its history. Many of the resulting recommendations really highlighted the need to work differently across the air-port community to better serve people. Fortunately, YVR had already identified and implemented some of these recommendations.

Some of the highlights from the last few years include hiring 100 fulltime Blue Coat frontline staff to supplement the essential volunteer Green Coats that help with customer service at the airport. YVR also became a living wage employer to help keep turnover levels low and improve the quality of life for their employees. While things were slow, they invested heavily in creating the airport’s digital twin. Using LIDAR, they created a complete digital replica of the airport that everyone working at the airport can see live on their phones. In partnership with tech companies, this digital twin will help with realtime modelling, data collection, and monitoring of everything at the airport, from climate to birds to passengers to airfield equipment.

The pandemic forced the airport to look for other revenue opportunities. Pre-pandemic, YVR didn’t have much of a cargo focus, but this sector was uncovered as a hidden gem with PPE and medical supplies being transported on special aircraft and the increases in e-commerce while everyone was stuck at home. The demand for overnight delivery has remained high and presents a significant growth opportunity for YVR.

YVR has also redone its land use plan for the first time in 30 years, freeing up 400 acres of industrial zone land in the Metro Vancouver region. As YVR looks to grow its cargo sector and a minimum of 50% of every freight bill being ground transportation, this land is highly valuable. YVR is now also looking to build the country’s first battery-operated marine-to-air cargo facility to reduce truck traffic and congestion in the city. This change would also help reach YVR’s commitment to net zero GHG emissions by 2030.

Of important note, YVR is located in the traditional, continuously occupied and unceded territory of the Musqueam. The two signed a historic sustainability and friendship agreement that has been in place for almost six years, resulting in the improvement of language, cultural symbolism, and recognition of the Musqueam across the airport. Through this commitment, YVR has hired over 100 Musqueam and is training youth for in-demand employment like environmental protection and assessment work.

Rick Brenner thanked Tamara and to presented her with an honorarium cheque for The Pacific Autism Family Network.