Nalini Singh is a second-year accounting student at Thompson Rivers University. By happy coincidence, Kamloops is my hometown, and the Airport Authority’s associate company Vantage Airport Group operates Kamloops Airport.
Nalini is one of 33,500 international students who come from more than 100 countries worldwide to study in British Columbia every year. She is joined by some 2,600 other international students at TRU alone.
International students spend more than $2 billion annually on tuition, accommodation, food and other items, like coffee, Kraft Dinner and beer. Not only do international students benefit from the experience of studying and living in beautiful B.C., but they uniquely enrich the lives of fellow students and their new local communities. And we can’t underestimate the multiplier effects—international students draw their families to visit while they’re here and in future years.
Nalini is from Mumbai and studying accounting at TRU. She’ll graduate next spring. With previous educational and work experience in finance, Nalini had plenty of options about where to study. She picked B.C. because of its reputation as a great place to live and TRU because it has a fantastic co-op program. Nalini also said she was excited to see snow for the first time.
But she didn’t pick B.C. because of its air connections. To get from Mumbai to B.C., Nalini had to make a number of connections. We don’t have direct service to India, yet. But it’s true that Nalini and her fellow foreign students at TRU would have had to connect through YVR to Kamloops.
As many of you know, when you’re new to a foreign country and a foreign airport, connections can be very stressful. We’re working hard to make connections faster, simpler and a lot less intimidating with a combination of new facilities and more feet on the floor. That’s friendly smiles and helping hands offered by our Customer Care staff and more than 450 Green Coat volunteers. Collectively, these employees and volunteers speak 43 different languages and answer thousands of inquiries per day – almost 800,000 that we measured in 2012 alone. That’s a lot of directions.
Our care for every customer extends to all aspects of the passenger experience, from curb to cabin. And we are also building new facilities worth several hundred million dollars to help future passengers – students like Nalini included – enjoy expedited connections for international to domestic flights, so the entire process takes place in less than 60 minutes.
YVR’s current air service connects to 49 percent of the global economy. That’s not enough. We have some big gaps. The B.C. Council for International Education notes that we could attract more international students from markets in the Middle East, South America and Southeast Asia if airline partners could offer non-stop air service.
In early October, I was in Las Vegas for Routes 2013 – the biggest air service and airport convention in the world. And once again, I had a conversation with a certain mid-eastern airline. This airline was voted the Best Airline in the World last year. And they want to fly to Vancouver, the best airport in North America.
This sounds like a simple business case, doesn't it? We have the infrastructure and the market demand for their business. But we can’t roll out the welcome mat because of restrictive federal air policy which allows:
• Qatar Airlines to fly three times per week to Montreal
• Etihad to fly three times per week to Toronto
• Emirates to also operate three flights per week to Toronto
But none of these airlines are allowed to fly to Vancouver at all. You may be saying, is it really that simple? Yes, it is. We don't advocate one-sided deals. Of course, these bilaterals must be reciprocal, and they can be.
We got a big win earlier this year when an open skies agreement between Iceland and Canada took effect. We recently announced that Icelandair will run twice-weekly seasonal service between YVR and Reykjavik, Iceland. With this new service, Nalini may find an accounting job for an Iceland mining company. And Jealous Fruits’ cherries may make it into a Viking feast. Or you may fly to Glasgow or Paris through Reykjavik because that's the fastest connection - all because bilaterals opened up.
Restrictive air policies affect all British Columbians. So, if YVR's skies were truly open, where would you fly from YVR? We want to know. Please tweet us your pick for our next destination @yvrairport, using the hashtag #FLYTHERE.
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