Halifax Stanfield still flying high through turbulent times after 60 years

Halifax Stanfield still flying high through turbulent times after 60 years
LEFT: Halifax International Airport (photo: Nova Scotia Archives, Nova Scotia Information Service, no. NSIS 13760). RIGHT: Halifax International Airport, present day.

Exactly 60 years ago, Halifax International Airport opened for business. In the intervening decades, many changes have occurred for the collection of runways and aprons just outside Nova Scotia’s capital city that’s now known the world over as Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport (Halifax Stanfield). And most of these have been overwhelmingly positive.

From its humble beginnings, handling fewer than 200,000 passengers in its first year, Halifax Stanfield has grown to accommodate more than 4.2 million travellers and 41,000 metric tonnes of cargo a year. Renamed in 2007 in honour of the late premier of Nova Scotia, today it maintains a preeminent place in the economic, social and cultural life of the province and the Atlantic region. No one knows this better than Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA) President and CEO Joyce Carter, who holds sway on the occasion of the airport’s 60th birthday like a proud and grateful master of ceremonies.

“I think it’s fair to say that we are here today because of our partners,” she says. “Over the 20 years HIAA has managed Halifax Stanfield, the airlines, agencies and businesses have grown with us every step of the way, and their energy and innovation have really been a fundamental part of our story. As they have evolved into major contributors to, and players in, the region’s economy, we’ve evolved right along with them. That clearly shows in the impact Halifax Stanfield has had and continues to have.”

“Air Canada is proud of its long-standing partnership with Halifax Stanfield International Airport and our role in connecting Nova Scotia to the world,” said Calin Rovinescu, President and CEO, Air Canada. “Together with Halifax-based Jazz Aviation, Air Canada’s largest regional airline partner and one of Nova Scotia’s top employers, we offered direct flights to over 20 destinations from Halifax last year, connecting families, friends and businesses, while supporting the employment of over 1,300 people across the province. These partnerships have strengthened Air Canada’s presence in Atlantic Canada, enabling the airline to be a strong contributor to the region’s economy, adding an estimated $2 billion to the region’s GDP annually. We look forward to working with HIAA to re-establish this important connectivity.”

The collective economic impact is impressive, indeed. According to Canmac Economics Limited of Halifax, the airport generated total economic output of $3.8 billion, total labour income of $1.1 billion, and 24,470 full-time equivalent jobs in Nova Scotia in 2018.

Halifax Stanfield is successfully delivering its economic impact through employment, trade and tourism. The airport’s geographic location provides an incentive for aerospace and aviation-related businesses to operate at the airport. 

IMP Group, with its aviation and aerospace and defense portfolios, has a long history and connection to Halifax Stanfield. ”Our company is proud to have been part of the remarkable growth and evolution of the Halifax airport over the past five decades,” said Kirk Rowe, President & CEO, IMP Group International Inc. “As the largest employer at Halifax Stanfield, we appreciate the role we play in the economic viability of the province and region, as well as eastern Canada. The airport’s connections to global markets have proven to be valuable to many regional exporters, including ourselves. While COVID-19 has significantly impacted our industry, we’re confident Halifax Stanfield and its partners like ourselves, will come out of the pandemic and be well positioned to continue working together in support of our region’s recovery.”

In 2018, Halifax Stanfield facilitated international exports of Nova Scotia goods at a value of $343 million. This economic activity provided provincial gross domestic product of $278 million, labour income of $144 million, and employment of more than 3,200.

Added to that is the airport’s enabling of tourism in the province. “In 2018, air non-resident travellers spent an estimated $680.3 million,” Canmac reported. “This activity resulted in provincial gross domestic product of $552.1 million, labour income of $373.0 million, and employment of 9,919.

If there’s a secret to all of this, Carter says it has something to do with being adaptable and attentive to a constantly changing world. “As an international airport, we’re a nexus for people and commerce,” she says. “All roads lead to us, as it were. Innovating in anticipation of growth and transformation in society and business at large is baked into our DNA because it has to be.”

The airport’s freight and cargo operations might be the perfect example of this. Since 2010 – when its high-capacity, multi-tenant facility opened – the annual gross weight of goods shipped domestically and around the world has nearly doubled. “Thinking back, that really was the start of our growth in cargo capability,” she says. “Importantly, though, it came about because we recognized the need and opportunity both to consolidate and expand to meet evolving needs.”

In fact, cargo exports out of Halifax Stanfield have seen five consecutive years of record expansion. Overall, this activity has created a total economic output of $514.1 million for the provincial economy. 

Geoff Irvine, Executive Director of the Lobster Council of Canada, knows the value of efficient air cargo better than most. “Our members rely heavily on the ability to export their products, particularly live lobster, as quickly and safely as possible,” remarked Irvine. “Having the ability to ship live seafood products directly to cities in Europe and Asia in less than 24 hours is incredibly valuable. We applaud and thank the team at Halifax Stanfield for their assistance over the years in attracting cargo services that allow us to showcase our products on the world stage.”

To support the ongoing need for air cargo and future expansion, Halifax Stanfield officially broke ground on a new Air Cargo Logistics Park in 2019. Carter notes that the new facility will create jobs, enhance trade and expand international capacity to foster exports not only for Nova Scotia, but also for the entire region. “It really is a game changer,” she says.

The facility—which is being constructed on 25 acres of land and will include a new cargo apron area and handling buildings, as well as an aircraft de-icing – will quadruple the number of dedicated cargo freighter parking positions. Add to these other existing parking positions and the total number available at Halifax Stanfield rises to eight when the project is completed sometime next year.

Nova Scotia Member of Parliament Sean Fraser captured the sense of excitement at the ground-breaking ceremony last year when he said the new Cargo Logistics Park “represents new jobs for our community in the short term. But, the long term impact will add storage capacity for our seafood products that are destined for global markets, which adds value to the local fishery and supports rural communities in Nova Scotia.”

Of course, if the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything in recent months it’s that the future isn’t carved in stone. Carter thinks about this as she reviews Halifax Stanfield’s admirable progress over the past 60 years. 

“When it comes to the pandemic, certainly the global movement of air cargo has become more important than ever. We want to make sure that we will be able to support that going forward,” she says, acknowledging that the crisis “has certainly battered the travel sector, Halifax Stanfield is no exception. Our revenue, compared with this time last year, is down substantially.”

Still, she says, the timing of such an impactful event is fortuitous. “Pre-COVID, we had been working on an updated master plan with a 20-year outlook at our business, in consultation with our many partners in all of the relevant sectors – tourism, trade, business connections, all of that. We haven’t finished our work, but now is an ideal time to pause and understand what we need to do with infrastructure, really with everything, in a post-pandemic world.” 

She notes that new health screening procedures, new and more efficient ways of dealing with physical distancing, food service, baggage and cargo handling need to be explored. New and innovative best practices need to be invented and adopted both here and around the world. “Throughout this, our top priority has always been the health and safety of our passengers, employees and community members,” she says. “I’m incredibly thankful for the many Halifax Stanfield employees who have continued working throughout the pandemic, to maintain safe airport operations for essential travel and delivery of much needed supplies.”

She is clear-eyed about the future. “We have some tough days ahead,” she says frankly. But Halifax Stanfield’s six decades of relevance and growth also give her hope and confidence. “We’ll get through this extremely challenging time, and we’ll be there for our community, as we always have been.”

All of which is only to say that, despite the turbulent times, Halifax Stanfield is still flying high after 60 years. If its managers, partners, employees, and stakeholders have anything to say, it will for another 60. •

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