Olympics boost traffic at Vancouver FBOs

 - March 30, 2010, 5:26 AM

The three FBOs located at Canada’s Vancouver International Airport each managed hundreds of operations during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The airport experienced its “busiest day in history” when general aviation travelers departed after the February 28 closing ceremonies, according to Scott Harrold, general manager of Landmark Aviation’s Vancouver FBO. “It was quite an experience,” he said. “It will always live with me and our team.”

Harrold and his colleagues spent two years preparing for the influx of traffic and at one point had reservations for 600 movements. During the final days of the event, Landmark handled nearly 150 departing aircraft.

Harrold serves on the board of directors of the Canadian Business Aviation Association and he served on the aviation security committee during the Winter Olympics. Although he doesn’t believe that business aviation presents a high security risk, it was necessary to implement strict security procedures, which included gateway airports and rigorous departure passenger screening at the Vancouver FBOs. Working with the Canadian Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit helped authorities learn more about how business aviation works, he said. “I think it opened up their knowledge to business aviation.”

Landmark brought in extra employees from other company FBOs in Canada to help manage the high volume of traffic, and the FBO put both of its Vancouver facilities into play. Normally business aviation customers use Landmark’s main (west) facility, and VIP customers can use the east facility if they need privacy. During the Winter Olympics, the west FBO handled arriving flights and the east facility handled all departures, which made security much simpler and prevented unscreened people from mingling with screened travelers.

During the final departure push on March 1, Harrold said, “people were patient. Everybody was in a good mood, the games were fantastic and it was a nice Vancouver day weatherwise. Everything went off fairly smoothly.”

Million Air chief branding
and business development officer Sandy Nelson spent 10 days at
the Million Air Vancouver FBO, helping shepherd nearly 300 arriving and departing aircraft, including Olympic athletes and more than one torch. “Everything went smoothly,” she said. The FBO brought in 40 employees from other Million Air FBOs to staff two weeks of 24-hour shifts. “Once it started clicking and all the plans worked,” she said. “There were no hiccups and it got to the point where it was synchronicity; it was beautiful.”

Nelson and Million Air’s event-planning experts spent months preparing for the Winter Olympics. “We were putting in late nights preparing,” she said. “We were already exhausted when we got there.” Unlike the Super Bowl in the U.S., which is just one event on one day, the Winter Olympics, she said, “is long and it’s about sustaining, staffing and stamina.”

To handle the security needs of departing passengers, Million Air modified a hangar as a VIP lounge, with curtains covering the walls and a temporary ceiling. The lounge was stocked constantly with fresh sandwiches and fruit, Starbucks coffee and Coca-Cola as well as five big-screen TVs and a Wii system loaded with Olympics games in the “Kids Zone.” Million Air employees drove into Vancouver to pick up catering from a variety of restaurants for customers who hailed from many different countries.

Nelson echoed Harrold’s sentiments about the effect of the influx of business aviation traffic on security officials. She found that security personnel “were reasonable in recognizing the difference between general aviation and commercial operations. They were commonsense about it and they became part of the family. It gave them an insight into what general aviation is all about.”

To manage logistics on the busy ramp, a Million Air ramp boss kept a constant tab on every aircraft, its passengers and crew, catering and supplies and any other details. The ramp bosses worked in shifts to provide 24-hour coverage.
Million Air’s Vancouver maintenance operation, Penta Aviation, helped fix any problems that came up on customer aircraft. Hawker Beechcraft also placed a team of technicians at the FBO during the Winter Games.

After the last airplane departed on March 1, the Million Air team shared a bottle of champagne then celebrated at the Flying Beaver bar, a local airport hangout.
Avitat Vancouver handled more than 300 movements during the Winter Olympics, according to sales and marketing specialist Farah Faruqi. “It was fast-paced and intense,” she said. “It’s something we’ll have memories of for a long time.”

Avitat also converted a hangar into a VIP lounge and security screening area and provided refreshments and big-screen TVs for passengers using the lounge.

Most of the traffic at the Avitat FBO flew in Boeing 737s, Bombardier Globals and large-cabin Gulfstreams, according to Faruqi. The FBO brought in personnel from other Canadian Avitat bases and hired 50 more people from the Vancouver area to help with baggage handling, concierge services and meeting arriving and departing passengers.

After the hectic rush, Avitat held a team appreciation event. “Once that’s over,” Faruqi said, “everybody’s going to be taking holidays as well.”

Some travelers who didn’t want to land at a gateway airport before flying to Vancouver landed instead at Bellingham International Airport, the nearest U.S. airport and only 50 miles from Vancouver. Bellingham Aviation Services had plenty of ramp space and helped make local transportation arrangements for arriving passengers.