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Edmonton YEG dreams of China

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  • Edmonton YEG dreams of China

    Flight Path

    Reg Milley and Co. on fast track

    By Les Brost

    People have love-hate relationships with airports. That’s not surprising… airports are contradictory places. An airport can have the sweet syncopation of a grooving jazz trio, or it can give a whole new meaning to the word ‘chaos’—all on the same day. The weak and the mighty, the old and the young—all on their own journeys, linked through the complex organism that is an airport.

    Like any other organism, an airport evolves to meet the demands placed upon it. Edmonton International Airport is on a dynamic path of change. In many ways, its growth—and its growing pains—mirror the challenges faced by our province as it adapts to a new role as one of Canada’s main economic engines.

    Greater Edmonton needs to be prepared for the opportunities and challenges that come with rapid growth. The potential is huge—if Edmonton can collaborate and partner with northern communities whose resources drive that expansion.

    Edmonton International Airport is at the hub of much of that growth. It directly employs 180 people who are among the 3500—the population of Fairview—working for the various airport partners and businesses. In one capacity or another, most cater to the needs of roughly 4.5 million travelers who pass through the security gates annually. Others handle and manage 200,000 tons of cargo every year. The airport generates 8200 person-years of employment annually, and contributes $1.4 billion to Alberta’s economy. Canada’s fifth largest airport racked up an estimated $85+ millions in revenue in 2005, and embarked on a 10-year, $89.5 million capital development program.

    So what about the future? The inevitable push to develop our massive northern resources will drive exponential economic growth, creating even greater challenges for the International and its satellite airports—City Centre, Villeneuve and Cooking Lake.

    There will be unprecedented increases in commercial and charter air services to transport people and goods to Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and beyond to other development magnets.

    Will this guarantee dramatic growth for Edmonton International? Consider the aggressive promotion by Calgary and proposed expansion plans by Red Deer for initiatives designed to capitalize on opportunities in the north. What are the implications of the launch of the “Newfie Express”—Air Canada’s recently announced Fort McMurray-Toronto-St. John’s service—for the Inernational?

    Maximizing the opportunities for growth will require effective leadership—and that makes the leadership team very important. Yet most Edmontonians know very little about the people charged with managing and shaping the future of Edmonton Airports. Who are they? What are their priorities? How will they work with other stake-holders—particularly municipalities like Wood Buffalo, Grande Prairie and Peace River?

    Edmonton Airports President and CEO Reg Milley is a sports fan, and he uses a sports analogy to describe the nature of airports. “Airports nationally are like members of a relay team. Members of the team have to be able to run very, very fast on their own. Yet they are completely dependent upon each other for overall success. If one member of the team falls, or if the baton is dropped during the hand-off, the team is in trouble. Like relay team members, each airport is independent of other airports.”

    He also uses the relay race analogy to describe the operations of individual airports. If one member of the airport team—anyone from ticketing agents and baggage handlers to the folks who sell coffee—struggles in his assignment, it impacts the entire team. There is a collective need to adapt to changes outside individual control.

    What kind of person takes on the challenge of leading such an interdependent team and complex business? Milley says he loves to communicate, and thrives on challenges and opportunities. His management style leans toward inclusion and collaboration, and he likes to keep an “open door and an open mind.”

    He has had one constant passion in a business career that has taken him across Canada, working in the energy and air transport industries. “What really drives me is to take something that others say can’t be done and do it. I love working with others to achieve common success. My job is not to knock down doors, it is to give others the keys.”

    He is candid about the challenges of operating a major airport. Running a business is not always about being a warm and cuddly person. There comes a time when tough decisions have to be made, and tough action taken. How does Milley approach the tough calls? He sees himself as a manager who doesn’t rush to decision and who communicates the rationale for his decision. “When I make the tough call, you may not like the decision I make, but I will always explain what I do in terms of the strategic thinking and long-term forces behind it.”

    After 14 months at his post, Milley has put together his executive and senior management group. “I rely on my team and need my team more than they need me, because I don’t have all the answers.” Who are they and what do they do?

    Running the operations side of a major international airport—and its satellites—is a demanding job, definitely not suited for the feint of heart. Milley says vice-president of operations and services Diane Trenn is up for the task. “She has a huge focus on customer service.” Trenn has a 23-year history with the operation.

    Successful marketing in the highly competitive airport industry depends upon a solid knowledge of the industry players. Vice-president of marketing Peter McCart, on board since December 2005, is a former Air Canada executive. “Peter is able to bring the perspective of the airline industry to the decision-making table, and that is incredibly important” acknowledges Milley.

    The bean-counting side of the the ledger is no small feat, either. Ralph Peterson, vice-president of finance, chief financial officer and corporate secretary, leads the development of the five-year strategic plan and annual business plans. Having joined Edmonton Airports in January 2003, he has spent his professional career in audit and finance. “Ralph is a solid financial watchdog. He knows finances… he knows balance sheets… and he asks the right questions.”

    Peter Martyniuk is director of infrastructure, a position he has held since August 2004. Planning and developing infrastructure at airports becomes even more challenging during periods of rapid growth. Edmonton International will hit traffic growth targets well ahead of schedule, and will be challenged to meet the capacity expectations of its customers.

    The team sees their people as their competitive advan-tage. Managing the “people file” is human resources director Garth Heizdzen. Appointed in November 2005, he has a background in psychology and human relations practice. And, since the summer of 1997, communication director Traci Bednard has become the familiar face, answering to the media. “Traci is the most strategic-thinking communication person I have ever known,” says Milley.

    Have these players gelled into a team? The CEO thinks the answer is yes. “We have grown from being a group of individuals into a team that is capitalizing on the individual strengths that we bring to the table. The team is now solely focused on where we need to go in order to succeed.”

    Regarding Air Canada’s Newfie Express, Milley says “I think it’s fantastic. It makes good business sense, and will generate more traffic at Edmonton International.” Air Canada has already announced extra daily flights from Edmonton to Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. Edmonton Airports is also actively seeking directs flights to China—a good move should Canadian Natural Resources decide to use Chinese labourers to build its tank terminals at its $10.8-billion oilsands project.

    The board of directors of the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority has identified revenue diversification as a priority. Since the International has more land than any other Canadian airport with scheduled air service, there is a strategic need to develop new and complemen-tary land uses for revenue generation.

    Where is this airport headed? Milley and his team have picked their destination of choice. “We want to be a customer focused, dynamic airport that positions this region in the best possible light. Our airport will be a business that talks to customers and exceeds their expectations.”

    A good idea for Edmonton. For Milley, one important message that came from his first year sitting in the president’s seat. “I didn’t fully understand the amount of emotion that was generated by the City Center Airport issue. A year ago, there were days when the issue took up 85 percent of my time. On bad days, it took up 95 percent. It was evidence of the importance of listening to people and working with them.”

    Ownership of the City Center property was a factor in the downtown airport controversy. The City of Edmonton owns the approximately 500 acres on which the airport is located and has the final say in property use. The Airports Authority has been granted a 50-year lease to operate the property as an airport.

    Because Edmonton is Alberta’s capital, ramifications of the Authority’s decision to limit the usage of City Centre were felt across the province. Northern and southern Albertans doing business with government, in particular, need to travel to Edmonton. The easy access to down-town from the City Center Airport resulted in significant cost, time and stress savings. Local businesses that had emerged and grown to fill the needs of the airport customers also raised concerns about the changes.

    Inevitably, the move to change the status of City Centre ran into fierce resistance, sparking a political fight. MLAs and municipal leaders from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in the north to the County of Lethbridge in the south, and Chambers of Commerce were involved in the debate—on all sides of the issue.

    The legislated accountability and governance structure for regional airports—not readily transparent to outsiders—added to the complexity. The board of the Edmonton Regional Airports Authority comprises 15 members: Six are appointed by the City of Edmon-ton, two each by the federal government and the board itself, and one each by Leduc, Sturgeon, Strathcona and Parkland counties and the City of Leduc. There will soon be provincial representation on the board, reflecting the government’s interest in airports as economic facilitators.

    Although these members are appointed by the various jurisdictions, their fiduciary responsibility is to the Authority. It is noteworthy that there is no barrier to the federal and provincial governments making board appointments representative of northern interests. As part of its accountability architecture, the board holds two public meetings twice yearly and consults with a business advisory group, composed of 20 local business leaders.

    Given this level of consultation, why would Edmonton Airports take such a contentious decision? As part of planning for future growth, the board of the Authority had identified key priority needs: to grow and strengthen relationships with stakeholders; to address issues pertaining to capacity, human and financial management issues; and to address challenges inherent in controlling a growing business and to refine Edmonton International Airport’s brand.

    These were some of the strategic considerations that drove the decision to change the status of City Center Airport. While resistance to limiting scheduled air services at City Centre has not disappeared, Milley sees a slow healing of the scars of the dispute. He believes that a strategy of communication and building win-win relationships is taking root. This fall, as part of that strategy, Edmonton Airports will host the first annual regional air service development workshop. It will bring together smaller communities and air service providers to find innovative ways to enhance service to those communities.

    The Edmonton Airports team dreams big dreams. Can big dreams come true? Is it in our interests to resolve today’s challenges in ways that position the community to seize long-term opportunities?

    If we want to see the city continue to grow and prosper, we have an interest in building a cohesive, efficient air service network. If we want to position our city as the focal point of the emerging powerhouse that will be tomorrow’s Canada, we have an interest. Reg Milley and his team appear to share these aspirations. Their success will be our success.

  • #2
    one of the better articles of late i must say



    • #3
      Yes, it is. I like the last paragraph - it really sums up the whole need to consolidate at YEG. You just cannot do that at YXD, it is simply too small. There is no getting around that fact, no matter what CAANA and others would have you believe.

      I am glad that the ERAA and other stakeholders have stayed the course and are really starting to simply move forward and not entertain too much more YXD reminiscing and revisiting. It is over - done - finished. It is so past the time to move on.

      I also like the urgency it presents. Calgary indeed has launched yet another expansion plan, and knowing the CAA they will bullishly go ahead. This one finally brings the long-planned twin runway to 16/34 to light. The ERAA needs to take heed and either work extremely hard to develop travel patterens now that focus on airlines that serve us or find ourselves an Air Canada slave - and we all know just how well Air Canada has served us in the past even though our travel numbers warrant better.
      President and CEO - Airshow.


      • #4
        China LOVES us!
        Edmonton first, everything else second.


        • #5
          Originally posted by RichardS
          This one finally brings the long-planned twin runway to 16/34 to light.
          Don't they need this due to current length issues?

          YEG needs a new long-term strategy, the expansion project plan was great but much of the work is done and the plan is very rarely updated to show how the final two phases are being scheduled.
          Edmonton, Capital of Alberta


          • #6
            Originally posted by SteveB
            Originally posted by RichardS
            This one finally brings the long-planned twin runway to 16/34 to light.
            Don't they need this due to current length issues?

            For what? It is not like a 380 is in YYC's future?

            16/34 at YYC was planned due to the expected growth and the need to remove the issue with 10/28 intersecting near C4. This removes the hold short restrictions on arrivals, but this is really an issue when teh winds dictate arr 16 and arr10. 34 to the intersection of 10/28 is about 9,800' - more than enough for a 737, 767, 321, etc to stop - by far the majority of aircraft at YYC.

            In the CAI days, flow control was activated into YYC often, now it seems flow restrictions are more due to controller staffing. So, I woudls surmise that without a huge spike in international traffic and increased "heavies", the current configuration is sufficient for a while longer.
            President and CEO - Airshow.