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New Calgary Airport CEO outlines vision for future at Chamber

The new CEO of the Calgary Airport Authority outlined his vision for the future of the Calgary International Airport in front of business leaders and government officials on Wednesday during at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Chris Dinsdale spoke about the challenges the airport is facing and the steps that he believed it will take to improve the passenger experience.

“This might sound really silly, but I’m big on two things: I’m big on toilets, and I’m big on kids’ playgrounds.”

Explaining his philosophy, he said that you can tell the health of an airport by its toilets.

That, and the improvement of the family travelling experience, were among the major focus areas of Dinsdale’s tenure as CEO of the Budapest International Airport.

It’s an airport, which over his seven years became just one of a few regional European airports to receive a four-star ranking from Skytrax. Budapest also won the Best Airport in Eastern Europe award for 2023 from that same organization.

Other areas that Dinsdale focused on during his tenure in Hungary were community and consensus building among the airlines and among support organizations involved in all aspects of air travel and air cargo transport. That same focus, he said, would continue on in Calgary.

“As an airport… our job is to support our community, and creating well paid stable long term jobs is vital,” Dinsdale said.

“Absolutely we should be developing cargo, we should be developing integrators, and MRO—maintenance of aircraft.”

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce hosts new Calgary Airport Authority CEO Chris Dinsdale at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Utilizing the terminal, surrounding areas more effectively

Internal developments to the YYC terminal discussed included the need to improve the passenger experience from the time they enter the airport to the time they enter their flight—from check-in, to security, to retail options.

“It’s all about getting people through the door and relaxing them as quickly as possible. So, you need to focus on all the small details. You need to get the toilets ready, you need to get security lines ready, and you get all these things right,” Dinsdale said.

“Going into the future, looking at YYC, we’ve got all that space, but now we need to start connecting it all, we need to start making sure that we have the right retail offerings and that we have the right quality levels—the fundamentals are good, but they’re not the top in Canada yet.”

Dinsdale also touched on the use of the land surrounding the airport, which he said would with the right partnerships, prove to be an economic catalyst for Calgary in the years to come.

Connecting Calgary to the Rocky Mountains via the airport got some claps and cheers from Liricon Capital, which has been heading up the Banff to Calgary passenger rail connection for the past half-decade.

The connection for that route, to connect the airport to the downtown, was critical said Dinsdale.

“A city of this size with an airport of this size—which is oversized for connectivity—it’s calling to have a train. It’ll be very popular and will be very busy,” he said.

“That should happen, hopefully as soon as possible, and we look forward to being a partner that.”

Adam Waterous, Chairman of Liricon Capital, said it was great to see so much enthusiasm about the possibility of the rail connector.

“The Calgary Airport Authority has been a great partner in this project over the last four or five years as we’ve worked with them to try and integrate the Calgary Airport Authority, Calgary Airport–Banff Rail projects into their own long-range plans. So this is this is not new news,” he said.

“But it’s great to see a new CEO, who is coming from Europe wherein trains being integrated into the airport and then linked downtown is, as he essentially describes, table stakes. It’s always great when he says the faster the better the sooner this gets done.”

WestJet Group CEO Alexis Alexis von Hoensbroech speaks as the Calgary Chamber of Commerce hosts new Calgary Airport Authority CEO Chris Dinsdale at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Business leaders hearing the right things from the new CEO

Deborah Yedlin, the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said after the luncheon that she and Chamber members absolutely heard positive things from Dinsdale about the future of YYC.

“We want someone who sees the potential in the airport and what it means to Calgary. Obviously, we look at it from an economic diversification perspective, but we’re also very focused on productivity,” she said.

“We know that that’s one of our selling features in terms of attracting capital talent and opportunity to calibrate and so he’s very focused on you know, making sure that we continue to grow and I think hearing you know, the number of passengers 18 million to 23 million by 2028. That’s a huge lift.”

Dinsdale said that in the past year, the airport set an all-time record, not just a post-pandemic record, of 27,600 departing passengers in a day.

That, he said, reflected the confidence that airlines have put into turning Calgary into a global connection hub for flights.

WestJet Group CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech spoke about that confidence, saying that in 2022 the airline consolidated all of their long-haul flights to the Calgary International Airport.

“It’s also a massive boon for us, and a very deliberate strategic decision to to put all of our eggs into one basket. But we did it because we know that Calgary and the Calgary Airport Authority are great partners in making this work,” he said.

Yedlin said that the direction of YYC continuing to grow the logistics and inland port side of the industry, were positive for Calgary’s businesses.

“The world is changing from a global supply chain standpoint. So anything that we can do to bolster dealing with the supply chain issues and connecting that side of the business or that side of the economy to other parts of the world is very beneficial to not just Alberta, but to the country,” she said.