#EHviationEvent: Abbotsford International Terminal Expansion

A relic from the Golden Era of Espionage: The Iconic CF 101 “Voodoo” Interceptor stands guard at the entrance to YXX. (Photo: John Jamieson, January 24th, 2019, YXX)


For many years, the Abbotsford Airport (YXX) was known as “YVR’s Third Runway”. Twenty-two years after being transferred to the city of Abbotsford in a $10 handover, the airport once known solely for its world-famous airshow is now handling over 800,000 passengers and stimulating economic growth in the Fraser Valley.

The story is truly a remarkable one when you consider the history of YXX. During World War II, the Allied Forces were in constant need of skilled pilots to fight the Axis Powers. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was established across the British Empire to try and address the pilot shortage problem. In Canada and many other Commonwealth states, airstrips and military bases were set up with the resources necessary to train new pilots and get them ready for the battle across the ocean in Europe.

Interestingly, the eventual site chosen for development had originally been rejected due to its proximity to the as yet unaligned United States (1942). Ironically, the current airport’s short distance from the border has become a significant opportunity for the City of Abbotsford and the team at YXX.

Back in 1997, a plucky Low-Cost startup celebrated its inaugural flight out of Abbotsford. 22 years later, WestJet has remained loyal to YXX providing daily service to Calgary and Edmonton. (Photo: John Jamieson, January 24th, 2019, YXX)

Move to Commercial Aviation:

As a commercial site, the Abbotsford Airport has an interesting history. There were almost no commercial flights at the airport until WestJet began flying to Calgary in 1997. Over the past 20 years, Fraser Valley residents have seen multiple carriers expand operations at YXX only to leave within a year or two after struggling to maintain profitability.

However, things may be about to change. As the country has become more accepting of ultra-low-cost airlines, Abbotsford has positioned itself to take advantage of the rise in air travel which has been driven by the availability of low fares. The airport has some of the lowest landing and terminal fees in Canada making it very attractive for airlines like Swoop, Flair, and Canada Jetlines. With the terminal expansion completely funded by the City of Abbotsford through their capital reserves, none of the fees have been passed onto the airlines and the airport did not have to go into debt to pay off the expenses.

We had the chance to experience the airport up close and learn more about its importance in the community at their media event on January 24th. Here’s our summary of the Terminal Expansion Project and our brief interview with Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun.

The atmosphere of the new baggage claim area pairs with the airport’s modern interior. (Photo: John Jamieson, January 24th, YVR)

Facts and Figures: 

Before rattling off some information about the recently completed project, it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate the growth in Abbotsford over the past few years. The last major terminal expansion was completed in 2011. The increase and improvement of the departure lounge was the focal point of the project, however, the airport also opened itself up to a number of aerospace companies and commercial entities.

When the current project was announced in 2017, the airport proudly projected a significant increase in passenger traffic. The expansion of the departure lounge and the addition of a new baggage carousel became the major selling points for the project.

It’s easy to talk up the benefits of the new expansion without providing any numerical context. Seeing as that element has been lacking to this point, here are some facts and figures which underline the importance of YXX”s recent expansion.

  • The expansion increased the terminals square footage by 14,000 bringing the total to 80,000. Additionally, the increased space facilitated the opening of 2 new gates, bringing the airport’s total to 5.
  • The seating capacity in the departure lounge has doubled from 300 available seats to almost 600. This increase is in line with Abbotsford’s recent traffic growth.t
  • Speaking of which, the airport saw 840,000 passengers pass through YXX last year, an increase of almost 165,000, or 24%, YOY. Management expects YXX to surpass 1 million passengers in 2019, a major achievement for the town and the airport.

Swoop Story Connection:

Representatives from Canada’s newest low-cost carrier, Swoop, were on hand to celebrate Abbotsford expansion. President Steven Greenway spoke on the benefits of partnering with a low-cost airport like YXX.

“Abbotsford has become an important base for the airline, the reduced landing fees and ground handling expenses make the airport particularly attractive for low cost airlines like ourselves”

The airline has become a major player at the airport currently operating year-round services to Edmonton, Hamilton, and Las Vegas in addition to the carrier’s seasonal flights to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Winnipeg. It was recently announced that London (Ontario) will be added to the list on May 24th of this year.

Mr. Greenway hinted at continued loyalty to YXX and Abbotsford when he discussed the airline’s plan to base a couple of the airlines 737-800s at the airport.

Abbotsford has become a crucial focus-city for us. The success that we achieved at YXX in 2018, suggests that Fraser Valley residents value the services we provide. Later this year we hope to begin staging aircraft at YXX overnight. We believe the cost structure at YXX presents us with a significant opportunity to capture cross-border traffic.

The official ribbon cutting. Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun and Swoop President Steven Greenway were kind enough to spend a few minutes with EHviation following the event. (Photo: John Jamieson, January 24th, 2019, YXX)

Interview with Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun:

After the event, we had a few minutes to chat with Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun. He happily answered our questions and was proud to discuss the airport’s value to the community.

I instantly felt comfortable speaking with Henry. This probably stemmed from a fun moment we had shared prior to the event. While parking my car, I was trying to find out whether the media representatives had to pay for parking. I approached Henry, without knowing who he was, and asked him; he confirmed that it would be covered and we exchanged business cards. It was only then that I realized I had been chatting with the Mayor.

First, I asked the mayor about the importance of establishing Abbotsford as the main airport for the border region, compared to Bellingham in the United States.

Currently, YXX is benefitting from the attractiveness of the Canadian Dollar. In the past, Fraser Valley residents were willing to drive down to Bellingham to take advantage of Allegiant’s low prices; Swoop’s growth at YXX gives residents a compelling reason to fly local and support the airport. Additionally, YXX has been able to remain debt free while expanding the terminal; Bellingham was forced to take on debt to complete their projects.

We then got talking about the lack of public transport and the transport infrastructure linking the airport with the rest of Metro Vancouver.

The current work being done on Mount Lehman Rd and the Trans-Canada Highway should help alleviate some of the traffic delays. As far as transit is concerned, we are hopefull that some form of light rail or rapid transit will connect Abbotsford with Surrey Central or some other Transit hub.

Closure and Conclusion:

Having never flown out of Abbotsford, I was very impressed by the functionality and design of the terminal. The modern feel of the departure lounge and the spaciousness of the arrivals/baggage claim area really stand out.

Also, after speaking with Karen McIsaac (Swoop’s Sr. Advisor for Communications) and President Steven Greenway, I really changed my opinion on Swoop. While they may have stretched themselves thin in certain markets, I really got the feeling that the airline is trying to bring value and new travel experiences to Canadians. I’m really hoping that the airline’s culture has a chance to stand out! If you’ve read my earlier post (Best in the West: “The Low Fare Pioneer” targets Rouge with new low-cost subsidiary) you’ll know that I’m willing to give the airline a chance. Know what you’re paying for, accept the tradeoff’s that are needed to achieve their low fares, and give them a chance.


Thank you to Karen, Steven, and Amy at Swoop for setting up the interview! And special thanks to Parm Sidhu and Henry Braun from the City of Abbotsford.

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