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The morale of the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare is at its simplest that slow and steady wins the race.

Well, think of the London International Airport as the tortoise and other big city airports such as those in Toronto, Detroit and Hamilton as the hare and you will soon see why Michael Seabrook feels pretty good about the facility’s future.

Mr. Seabrook, vice president of London International Airport, was discussing the facility’s recently announced $6.5 million expansion plans when he said the future looks good for a business that has always taken the slow and steady approach.

“We are happy with the direction we are going. We are proud of the accomplishments we have had. But there continues to be considerably more potential for this facility. This is a business where you grind your way through projects, keep poking around and finding opportunities and try to find products and services to meet those opportunities,” Mr. Seabrook says. “With the cyclical nature of the airline industry, although with our business we have continued to chug along with nice, incremental growth every year, you do have to be cautious. That is how we have proceeded over the past 12 years and we are going to continue to do that. I don’t think in my lifetime we will ever find the upper limit of what we can do.”

The airport’s latest expansion the last having taken place in 2003 is designed to create more room for passengers, accommodate the jet traffic that has grown more important in recent years and provide an anchor for growth of not only the facility, but the Forest City as well.

Since privatizing in 1998 and moving from a money losing federal government operation to a profitable, free market business, Mr. Seabrook says the airport has continued to grow into one of the busiest depending on how one chooses to measure such things in the entire country.

“It is certainly a growing airport. We have tried to position ourselves as the hub airport in southwestern Ontario. We have attracted new airlines, we have built our revenue base significantly diversified it as well over many different revenue sources and we have increased our passenger numbers substantially,” Mr. Seabrook says. “Our gross revenue is $10.8 million. We saw about 500,000 travelers last year, which is up about 58 per cent over the last four years. As measured by aircraft movements takeoffs and landings we are about the sixth busiest airport in Canada. In terms of passenger movements, depending on the ranking, we’d probably be about the 10th, 11th, 12th busiest, something like that.”

That success has come in many ways due to a situation Mr. Seabrook says is fairly unique to London.

“We have a phenomenon here called leakage. And what that means is that we have competing airports in our backyard, Detroit, Toronto, Hamilton for that matter. We lose traffic into and out of our marketplace to those large, competing airports,” Mr. Seabrook says. “So what we are trying to do is get the right services in here to reduce that leakage. We do pretty well on the domestic side within Canada.”

Mr. Seabrook says the airport’s expansion plans and construction is expected to begin this summer with a completion date in 2011 will help address that leakage issue, as well as, allow for new business opportunities.

“The expansion was triggered by an increase in passenger numbers and a change in aircraft types. If you went back to our terminal expansion in 2003, we were entirely a turbo prop operation. Now, we are a combination of turbo prop and jet. Ideally, those jet operations look for a few things different in a terminal building than turbo props,” Mr. Seabrook says. “One difference being loading bridges, the jet ways. This new terminal expansion will include five of them; connect the terminal building directly to the aircraft. There will still be five gates for ground loading aircraft. And we will still have our covered walkway system to get people out to those aircraft.”

The addition of the passenger bridges and accommodation of increased jet traffic will see the airport expand its 85,000 sq. ft. terminal by approximately 15,000 sq. ft. Those plans, Mr. Seabrook says, shouldn’t disrupt the airport’s staff or ongoing operations.

“The beauty of this is right now we believe we can build the addition with little or no disruption to what exists today. It is an add on to the building. It will be something of a segregated construction area. We do have some minor renovations to do to the existing building as we marry the two together,” Mr. Seabrook says. “The idea is to get the new part totally completed, open it up, and then incrementally renovate what we have to in the existing part. The passenger will not see a disruption in the services.”

Preventing any possible disruption or as much as is possible is something Mr. Seabrook says a good deal of effort has gone into. “We have to make sure everyone from the airlines to the passengers to the cleaners, to anybody who potentially will work in this area; we have tried to think through these things with those people in mind, to try and design something that works functionally for everybody. There certainly was input from all those parties.”

The project does carry a $6.5 million price tag, but Mr. Seabrook says will be financed in many respects out of the airport’s own success.

“We have to finance this thing obviously. We are doing that in two ways. There is a modest loan for one. The other part, there are no shareholders as part of our company that benefits at the end of the day,” Mr. Seabrook says. “So any profit we make gets returned to either reducing the cost of operating or it goes into the capital expansion of the facility. So that is where the majority of the financing is coming from.”

Once the expansion is complete, Mr. Seabrook says focus will shift to adding on to the services that have made the airport such as success.

“We want to get a combination of services that feed into a carrier’s main hub like an Air Canada in Toronto, United in Chicago, Delta in Detroit. And we also want to have those key destinations we can support direct service. Right now we have Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Chicago, Detroit, Ottawa,” Mr. Seabrook says. “We would like to get seasonal and then year round Halifax service in here. We would like to get some additional Montreal direct service. Certainly we would like something on the eastern seaboard, whether it is New York or Washington or somewhere in that direction, we would like to get direct service to.”

In addition to the regular direct services coming out of London, Mr. Seabrook says the airport will also look to expand its seasonal services an aspect of the business that has proven to be quite successful.

“Last year we had four operators doing Caribbean and Florida service. We want to continue growing that season charter business. That is a part we think we can grow,” Mr. Seabrook says. “Also in the summertime, there is a substantial amount of European travel out of our catchment area. So we would like to see on our list of target services to go after is European service. Initially seasonal and then the hope, as with any season service, is that it can support year round. But you crawl before you walk.”

Once the renovations are completed and efforts to expand services are well underway, Mr. Seabrook says London International Airport will continue to build on its role not just in the province and country, but the community as well.

“I think what we are, and what we will be, are the same thing. It is just to what extent. For any successful city to thrive they need a good transportation network and our city is no exception. We need the ability to get airfreight into and out of our area of southwestern Ontario efficiently. We need the ability to get people into and out of our area. We are certainly the conduit to make that happen,” Mr. Seabrook says. “We are certainly aware of our role in that, both in the cargo and the passenger side; we are out there all the time trying to determine what the market needs and then finding services that can satisfy that need.”

Today the airport directly employs 150 200 people. However, if you look at the total employee group taking into account everything that is associated with the airport that number jumps to 1,752 employees.

Mr. Seabrook says the needs of those employees and in fact everyone in the Forest City have helped shape the airport into one of London’s most important economic engines.

“We do think about our role. One is to be economically viable; we have to be responsible financially, making a profit every year that can be retained into capital projects at the airport. We certainly want to be a big player in community development. We want to work with community players,” Mr. Seabrook says. “We are the largest airport in this area of southwestern Ontario, so we want to be that stimulus for new businesses to come here. We are conscious of our role in helping to grow that and help produce jobs for our community.”
timberland boot company Facelift to help fuel growth of London's airport