The year was 1929. While the stock market crashed in New York, a new public airport was preparing for take off in Vancouver.
Indignant that Charles Lindbergh refused to include Vancouver in his 1927 North American Tour because the city lacked a proper airport, Vancouver purchased a large parcel of land on Sea Island for $300,000 in 1929 and invested another $300,000 in runways, hangars and office buildings.
Three years later, on July 22, 1931, that land would become home to Vancouver’s first public airport, replacing the original grass airstrip at Richmond’s Minoru Park.
YVR airport celebrates its 80th birthday Friday and Saturday, with a public open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days. Entertainment will include vintage aircraft, a historical photo gallery, DJs, magicians, face painters, balloon twisters, lunch specials from YVR shops and restaurants, prizes and giveaways.
The airport’s opening is not the only time the Sea Island airport would flourish in a time of turmoil. The Second World War saw large expansions to the airport, including a three-km runway.
The airport was officially named Vancouver International Airport in 1947. By the 1950s, it began receiving overseas flights and a north terminal opened to facilitate passenger traffic.
In the 1960s, the City of Vancouver sold the airport to the federal government’s department of transport, and the airport received a new air terminal at a cost of more than $30 million.
John Lenahan, Vancouver Airport Authority director of engineering, remembers being a boy and accompanying his father, who was Transport Canada’s director of air services at the time and master of ceremonies, at the opening of the terminal in 1968.
“It was an exciting time when the new terminal was being built; an old wooden structure was replaced with what was then a state-of-the-art terminal. One thing many people don’t know is that for a number of years there was underground parking in the basement of the terminal until passenger traffic grew to the point that it was converted to facilitate arriving international passengers. In some areas of the basement, you can still see the paint from old parking lines.”
In 1989, the airport became widely known as YVR, and three years later it would become one of four airports in Canada to transfer from federal government control to administration by a community-based, not-for-profit organization. Vancouver Airport Authority officially assumed the management of YVR on July 1, 1992.
Tony Gugliotta, Vancouver Airport Authority’s senior VP of marketing and business development, joined the Airport Authority in 1992. “I was excited about the transition because I knew that infrastructure funding was the first step in developing a successful airport,” Gugliotta said.
Another highlight was the opening of the north runway on Nov. 2, 1996, when the airport hosted a ‘Run, Write and Roll’ community day. More than 10,000 local residents could sign their names on the pavement and run, walk or rollerblade down the 3,030-metre-long runway.
“The community day included a race between Rick Hansen and Donovan Bailey, that was entertaining,” he said.
Between the late 1990s to early 2000s, the airport grew exponentially — and not without controversy. Coun. Harold Steves recalls run-ins with the department of transportation the year he was elected to Richmond city council in 1968.
“The department of transportation undertook to expand the runway onto Sturgeon Banks, this was stopped at an Environment Canada public hearing because the expansion would destroy bird and fish habitats populating that area. The airport expanded instead on Sea Island, expropriating land from residents.
“A lot of wildlife habitat was lost during that expansion, but funds were set up through a series of negotiations to purchase land in Delta to relocate the birds that were populating the airport. The same funds also fed the fowl in Delta, which helped mitigate the loss of habitat. So there were some positive aspects that came out of all that,” he added.
Currently, Richmond city council is unanimously opposed to a proposed pipeline to supply jet fuel to the airport to replace an existing one that makes its way from Burnaby.
But while YVR has been a target for environmentalists, it has also been recognized as the first power smart certified business by BC Hydro in 2002. YVR has also received the coveted Skytrax World Airport award in 2010 and 2011 and was rated the best airport by customers across 39 key performance indicators.
The Airport Authority now looks to the future with a recently announced $1.4 billion, 10-year capital program to help ensure that YVR will be ready for the passenger projections of 2012 and beyond.