Visa initiative could draw new direct flights to YVR

Airport CEO wants a bigger slice of traffic between China and South America

At YVR: Craig Richmond, the airport's new CEO, wants to create a secure transit facility at the airport so travellers in transit to other countries don't have to clear Canadian customs

Federal government red tape is strangling Vancouver International Airport's ability to be a gateway to the Americas while costing the city hundreds of jobs, according to Vancouver International Airport Authority (VIAA) CEO Craig Richmond.

One stifling regulation requires Chinese nationals to get a Canadian visa when they change planes at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) en route to South America.

That inconvenience steers Chinese traffic to South America through other cities, such as Dubai, Richmond told Business in Vancouver.

"There're 1.2 million people flying annually between China and South America and [the amount of traffic] is going to explode because of mining work," he said. "We're not taking advantage of that."

Liberalized Canadian visa requirements would enable Vancouver to tap into that traffic and make it viable for an airline to operate direct flights between Vancouver and South America.

No direct flights operate between Vancouver and South America, but the number of direct flights between Vancouver and mainland China hit a high of 54-per-week earlier this year.

If Vancouver does land some of the traffic between China and South America, Richmond would seek approval to build a "secure transit facility," where South American-bound Chinese nationals and others would be able to wait and change planes – all without clearing Canadian customs. That area would include duty-free shops, spas, showers and other amenities along with boarding gates.

The Canadian government currently requires most international passengers changing planes in Vancouver to pass through Canadian customs.

VIAA research estimates that each new daily international flight generates between 150 and 200 direct jobs servicing planes, passengers and cargo at YVR.

Each new flight from China creates 400 more jobs across Metro Vancouver at cafes, hotels and tourist attractions, Richmond said.

"This will generate a lot of business for us," China Southern Airlines marketing and business development manager Paul Chu told BIV.

He added that if traffic is substantial China Southern would consider basing a plane in Vancouver, which would create more jobs. China Eastern Airlines marketing and sales manager Ben Lee told BIV that if visa-free transit results in a strong uptick in traffic, his airline would also increase flights through Vancouver.

No one from Canada Border Services Agency or Transport Canada was available to comment. •