Craig Richmond, YVR | BCBusiness

Craig Richmond, YVR | BCBusiness
Airport Authority president and CEO Craig Richmond shares YVR updates at an annual public meeting on Thursday.

Airport Authority CEO Craig Richmond says Sao Paulo is within reach of flight expansions, but Mumbai is just too far away

President and CEO Craig Richmond finished off a comfortable first year at the head of the Vancouver Airport Authority Thursday, reporting at an annual public meeting that passenger numbers have finally bounced back above their 2008 high. Richmond took over from Larry Berg last June, in time to bask in YVR’s fifth-straight Skytrax Airport Award for best airport in North America.

Richmond announced the rollout of a new line of biometric customs kiosks and talked up a new discount luxury shopping centre that will open on Sea Island next year. He also reaffirmed that YVR is still negotiating with the federal government to allow passengers to fly through Canada without obtaining Canadian visas, a plan that he says will allow the airport to offer direct flights to South America and several new Chinese cities.

“All we need is the federal government to come on board,” Richmond said, but would disclose what exactly was holding up the process. “It’s a very delicate thing when you’re talking about government policy… These things can go sideways. You think you have something going, and then you don’t.”

Faced with a question from the audience about flights to South Asia, however, Richmond said that planes are not efficient enough yet to make the flight worth it.

“It’s just a long ways,” he said. “That extra two or three hours, depending on winds, that take you past Shanghai to Mumbai, kills the yield. Many airlines have tried it, and few have succeeded, given current technology.”

Richmond also threw up his hands in response to a question about Bellingham airport poaching business from YVR with super cheap flights. “I can’t argue with that,” he said. “I would like everyone who flies out of B.C. to fly out of Vancouver. But I also recognize that Bellingham is in a different country with an entirely different cost structure…. We paid $42 million in rent here last year and Bellingham gets grants from the federal government in the States to run the airport. I don’t think given that cost structure… that we can compete on cost with Bellingham.”

Richmond said that to compete with Bellingham and Seattle, YVR will have to be a “high value” airport, offering better services and more destinations.

YVR’s biggest lump this year, however, was a $50-million writeoff in its subsidiary, Vantage Airport Group. Vantage pulled out of its 65 per cent ownership of Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport, citing an economic downturn and tough competition for the failed investment.

YVR generated $430 million in revenue in 2013, and invested $190 million into capital projects. The airport also added $20 million to its cash reserves.

The annual report noted that Richmond was paid an approximately $450,000 salary as president.