YVR Looks into New Routes to China, South America

A Cathay Pacific cargo jet waits at YVR. 21 passenger flights per week connect Vancouver and Hong Kong.

Feds agree to look at Vancouver Airport’s plans to become a hub for travel between China and the Western Hemisphere

Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt will “look into” the Vancouver Airport’s plan to reroute Chinese passengers through Vancouver on the way to South America, her office said after she met with Vancouver Airport Authority President and CEO Craig Richmond earlier this month. Raitt’s office would not comment further on the meeting, but Richmond says the Minister — along with other Ottawa officials — are “positive” about his plan.

Richmond says all he needs is approval from the federal government to expand the airport, add new international flights, increase tourism, and deliver hundreds of jobs for Vancouver. “I have met with senior officials in Ottawa and this is getting a positive look,” he says.

Richmond’s plan, first mentioned at a Vancouver Board of Trade meeting last month, would allow passengers to pass through YVR on long-range international flights without entering Canada. At the moment, he says, Vancouver lacks enough traffic to justify direct international flights to smaller Chinese cities such as Fuzhou and Nanjing or to South American cities such as Sao Paulo and Lima.

Vancouver is on almost a direct line, however, between China and South America. If YVR became a stopover point between the rapidly growing economies of China and Brazil, Vancouver would reap the benefits of dozens of new international flights.

Connecting China and Vancouver

Beijing: 22 flights per week (Air Canada, Air China).
Hong Kong: 21 flights per week (Air Canada, Cathay Pacific)
Shanghai: 21 flights per week (Air Canada, China Eastern).
Guangzhou: 7 flights per week (China Southern).
Shenyang: 4 flights per week (Sichuan Airlines).
Chengdu: 4 flights per week (Sichuan Airlines).

The only problem, Richmond says, is that international passengers have to cross through Canadian customs to transfer from a Chinese to a South American flight — requiring a hassle-laden Canadian visa. With the federal government’s approval, he would build a stopover zone where passengers could wait, customs free, for a connecting international flight.

“We have the capital and we have the engineering expertise. We have the terminal ready to go,” he says. “I could have a temporary one set up in a matter of months, much less time than it takes the ink to dry on the paperwork.”

As well as the benefit of new direct connections, Richmond says even one new international flight would create between 150 and 200 new jobs at the airport. There is also tourism, and closer ties to China’s smaller cities — more than 40 of which are larger than metro Vancouver.

“We’ve stopped using the term secondary city around here,” Richmond says. “It’s hard to call a city of three million people a secondary city.”

He says he recently started negotiating with a Chinese province with 40 million people, several major cities, and an airline that wants to fly direct to Vancouver in Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Richmond won’t say who his business partners are — citing confidentiality — but it is worth noting that the coastal province of Fujian, one of China’s only provinces with approximately 40 million people and several major cities, recently ordered six Boeing 787s.

At the same Board of Trade meeting in October, Richmond also asked the federal government to negotiate bilateral agreements permitting more international flights, and to allow travellers into Canada on American visas.