Vancouver halts construction and plans to close 55% of its terminal

An aerial view of Vancouver International Airport in this undated photo (photo: Vancouver International Airport).

Update September 9, 2020: Vancouver International has cancelled a $460 million parkade and geothermal plant construction project.

Vancouver International Airport – Canada’s largest hub to the Asia-Pacific region – is preparing to close more than half of its terminal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new information released Friday.

“To be clear, even if passenger flights stopped altogether, we would remain open as a critical hub to facilitate the transfer of goods and the movement of key personnel,” the airport’s chief executive, Craig Richmond, said in a video posted to the airport’s Twitter account.

He expects more than 50% of the 26,000 people who work at the airport to be laid off. “The effect on our economy will be immense,” he said.

Richmond said the airport has halted all construction projects as the facility moves to conserve cash, throwing more than 4,000 people out of work. Work was halted on a major expansion to the international Pier D just months from completion as well as a new six-storey parkade with space for more than 2,800 vehicles.

(Correction, a previous version of the story said the expansion was to Pier E, it is to Pier D.)

Richmond laid out the crisis facing Vancouver International in stark terms.

“Before the crisis, we experienced a decade of record growth,” he said. “It will come as no surprise that our core business has taken a substantial hit. The impact can be seen everywhere – in closed stores, empty terminal spaces, and open parking stalls.”

He said the airport is seeing between 10 and 20-thousand passengers a day, where it would normally see more than 70-thousand. “And these numbers will continue to decline as Canadians finally make their way home, our visitors leave the country, and as other restrictions take effect around the world.”

Vancouver is one of only four cities allowed to accept flights from overseas destinations, according to rules announced by the federal government.

Even still, “We expect international and U.S. traffic to drop to near zero in the weeks ahead,” he said. “Frankly it’s going to get worse before it gets better and you’ll notice it because you just won’t see as many planes in the sky.”

The airport has already closed its oldest B pier, and plans to consolidate all operations onto Pier C, which currently handles Air Canada flights, and nearby gates.

Plans published by Canada’s two national airlines – Air Canada and Westjet – call for Vancouver to handle 308 domestic departures a week in April, plus a handful of flights overseas and to the United States. Two airlines with operations based at YVR’s South Terminal, Pacific Coastal and Harbour Air, have announced plans to shut down operations.

Richmond’s dire forecast comes the same day Quebec City became the first Canadian airport to announce 40 layoffs as a result of the pandemic. Richmond said the priority would be maintaining airport authority jobs.

The Canadian Airports Council – which represents the country’s largest airports – predicts the COVID-19 pandemic will cost its members up to $2.2 billion this year, and that estimate keeps rising.

Richmond was due retire at the end of June, though the pandemic may put those plans on hold as the pandemic complicates the search for his replacement. “In the event that there is a delay in a new CEO coming on board,” said Vancouver International’s Board Chair Annalisa King Friday, “Craig Richmond has agreed to stay on as President & CEO, temporarily as required.”