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Mark Brownlee
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Pressure to develop surrounding lands among challenges facing new airport CEO

The outgoing head of the Ottawa International Airport Authority oversaw considerable development and expansion during his 16 years at the helm. His replacement will have it no different.

The Ottawa International Airport Authority announced last week that its five-month search for a new president and CEO had come to an end. Former Canada Lands Co. CEO Mark Laroche was the unanimous choice of the airport’s board, according to its chairman.

Current CEO Paul Benoit led the airport authority through its largest expansion in a decade in 2003 when a $310-million passenger terminal building was constructed. A $60-million parking expansion was also undertaken between 2004 and 2010.

The number of air travellers passing through the Ottawa airport keeps climbing, which will force Mr. Laroche to enlarge the facility to keep pace.

 

TERMINAL ADDITIONS

“We’re about to reach five million passengers a year, which means our current facilities will need to be expanded,” said Gilles Lalonde, chairman of the  airport authority board.

The airport’s master plan predicts 7.66 million annual passengers by 2030, up from the 4.62 million recorded in 2011. That would require an additional 10 passenger gates on top of the current 25 the airport is projected to have by the end of 2012.

The airport’s master plan contains some ideas on how to add those gates. However, Mr. Lalonde said the new CEO will play a significant role in deciding how and where to build them.

The city’s broader tourism sector will be watching any expansion closely, given that the airport helps shape many visitors’ first impression of the National Capital Region, said Jantine Van Kregten, the director of communications for Ottawa Tourism.

The industry was happy with the previous expansion rounds that helped the airport win several awards, including an urban design award from the City of Ottawa in 2005.

“We are at a good starting point,” said Ms. Van Kregten.

“Is there more that can be done? Of course. But we know that the team is up for the challenge.”

 

GETTING SEATED

Mr. Laroche – who was unavailable for interviews, according to airport officials – faces a learning curve when he starts work next March. While he’s previously served as the City of Gatineau’s top bureaucrat and led a federal Crown corporation, he appears to lack experience in commercial aviation.

That sets him apart from his predecessor and most of his soon-to-be peers.

Mr. Benoit came to Ottawa after a stint as vice-president of operations and marketing for the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport, and most current Canadian airport CEOs held executive positions with airlines or airport authorities before ascending to their present positions.

Mr. Lalonde said Mr. Laroche’s past management background outweighed his lack of commercial aviation experience in the eyes of the board.

He stressed that the new president would be able to pick up the nuances of his new sector “fairly quickly” and would be assisted by the veteran management team currently in place at the airport.

One area Mr. Laroche is particularly well-qualified in is development. That experience could come in handy, given the increasing pressure the city is placing on the airport to put its vacant land to better use.

 

DEVELOPMENT LANDS

Mr. Laroche previously served as the president and CEO of the Canada Lands Co., a federal Crown corporation that inherits surplus government properties, such as the Rockcliffe Air Base, and readies it for resale and redevelopment.

That organization is in some ways similar to the airport authority, Mr. Lalonde said. The CLC deals with properties the federal government owns, while the land the airport sits on is managed by Transport Canada.

The Crown corporation that’s responsible for much of the federal government-controlled land in the region, the National Capital Commission, would need to be involved in deciding what goes on those lands.

It has been “very unhelpful” in the city’s attempts to get the spaces ready for employment, said Peter Hume, the chair of the city’s planning committee.

For its part, the NCC aims to ensure any new development preserves the natural features of the area.

“The NCC would like to see development appropriate to the carrying capacity of each area with a high quality of architecture, landscape architecture and urban design in a manner that integrates well into the Greenbelt landscape,” wrote NCC spokesperson Mario Tremblay in an e-mail.

Mr. Laroche’s experience in the National Capital Region – namely his time as chief administrative officer of the City of Gatineau – was a factor in his hiring, according to Mr. Lalonde.

Given the competing visions for the large swaths of property around the airport, Mr. Laroche’s skills in navigating the many levels of government involved in any significant land decisions will likely be put to the test.

Organizations: Canada Lands Co., Ottawa International Airport Authority, National Capital Commission Montréal-Mirabel International Airport Canadian airport CEOs Rockcliffe Air Base

Geographic location: Ottawa, National Capital Region, Gatineau Greenbelt

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