Paul Benoit - Annual Public Meeting - May 5, 2004

An allocution by Paul Benoit, President and CEO


Good afternoon.

Well, what a year 2003 was for so many reasons.

I’m pleased to be here to tell you about it.

When we met last year, I told you that 2003 was shaping up to be the “perfect economic tsunami”.

I’m not a prophet, but those words could not have been more accurate.

L’année a débuté sur une note relativement positive : le nombres de voyageurs commençaient à augmenter pour la première fois depuis cette journée fatidique de septembre 2001.

Les augmentations n’étaient pas renversantes, loin de là, mais au moins les volumes prenaient la bonne direction.

As a result of War in Iraq, the situation changed almost immediately.

People stayed a little closer to home.

We noticed the most pointed change in transborder travel.

The next difficulty that the industry, among others, faced was the arrival of SARS in Canada, particularly in Toronto.

With a substantial portion of our traffic originating or terminating in Toronto, the impact was felt here in Ottawa.

Then in April, our largest carrier, Air Canada, filed for bankruptcy protection, thus introducing a healthy dose of uncertainty into the industry.

It seemed that another body blow to an already wounded industry could not be endured.

Et c’est alors que la province a été plongée dans le noir par la panne de courant, qui a mis à l’épreuve la patience, l’ingéniosité et l’humeur de chacun.

À Ottawa, le courant a été rétabli relativement vite, mais, à cause des problèmes à son centre d’opérations à Toronto, Air Canada a souffert plus que d’autres.

We experienced huge line-ups for days, but we had all hands on deck to help where we could.

Even if it meant simply handing out refreshments and snacks, almost the entire Authority team came together to make a difference to those who were stranded or affected.

They are all to be congratulated.

And, at the Ottawa Airport, we managed well in spite of the difficulties.

Early on, the Authority reacted by freezing all non-essential spending, and eliminating or deferring many planned capital expenditures.

Of course, we had a few projects on our plate to keep us busy, and we forged ahead, albeit carefully.

As you know, in May of 2001, we broke ground on the new Passenger Terminal Building, which was the largest piece of the $310 million Airport Expansion Program that also included the design and creation of a new Combined Services Building, and a new de-icing facility

Les équipes de projet faisaient d’excellents progrès et, en février de l’an dernier, nous nous sommes mis la tête sur le billot et avons décidé de fixer notre date d’ouverture.

Nous avons analysé avec soin l’échéancier de construction, consulté nos compagnies aériennes partenaires, et choisi une date favorable pour toutes les parties concernées.

Thanksgiving Sunday, October 12th it was.

The plan was to cease operations in the old terminal with the arrival of the last flight on October 11th, followed by a physical move of all systems and equipment that hadn’t already been made in the preceding days, to the new terminal.

With the first flight leaving just after 6:00 the next morning, timing was tight.

Grâce au dévouement des équipes de l’Administration aéroportuaire, des compagnies aériennes, des locataires et des fournisseurs qui nous ont prêté main forte, le déménagement s’est déroulé sans incidents.

The community waited patiently for years for the new terminal, and they’re thrilled with the end result. They’ve visited in large numbers and have provided us with their thoughts, suggestions, and expressions of pride for what they consider to be a fitting gateway into the nation’s capital.

Comme dans tout mégaprojet de construction, nous savons qu’il faudra continuer à changer jusqu’à ce que tout baigne dans l’huile, jusqu’à ce que tout soit comme nous l’avions envisagé au départ.

C’est pourquoi nous avons donné suite à toutes les cartes de commentaires et à toutes les lettres reçues, et prenons au sérieux les idées que nous recevons.

Nous l’avons dit depuis le début, l’aéroport a été construit par la collectivité et pour la collectivité, et nous attachons beaucoup d’importance aux commentaires.

Mais n’oublions pas que c’est toujours un travail en cours.

We’re particularly proud of some feedback that we received late in 2003 from the disabled community and the City of Ottawa.

We were honoured with the Accessibility by Design Award for the lengths that we went to ensure that the new terminal is as barrier free as possible.

When we started planning the expansion program, it was at a time when the industry was thriving, the technology sector was booming.

The prospects in Ottawa were very bright.

Shortly after we broke ground, the situation changed dramatically.

The Board of Directors of the Airport Authority, under the chairmanship of Regis Trudel at the time, maintained faith in the Authority’s Management Team who persevered with the expansion.

Throughout the duration of the project, they continued to support the decisions made and actions taken as we moved forward.

I would like to thank both Regis Trudel, and Claude Bennett who assumed chairmanship mid-way and saw the project through to completion, for their unwavering support and wise counsel.

And to the entire Board, my sincere thanks for being involved, for your commitment, and for your enthusiasm and encouragement every step of the way.

Aux constructeurs, experts-conseils et gens de métiers qui ont appliqué leurs compétences et leurs talents avec une telle diligence pendant tout le projet, je dis merci également.

Ils ont travaillé avec une minutie et une attention pour la santé et la sécurité qui feraient l’envie des responsables de tout mégaprojet.

Nous n’avons jamais cessé de compter le nombre de jours qui a dépassé 2 millions de jours-personnes sans accident entraînant une perte de temps.

Many asked if we could afford to complete the project, given the state of the industry.

I would ask if we could afford not to.

À cause des changements de conjoncture économique à Ottawa, nous avions accès à des corps de métiers qu’il aurait été impossible d’engager un an plus tôt.

Nous avons gardé notre articulation et maintenu une approche vigilante de nos finances, si bien que nous avons pu trouver le financement nécessaire au projet.

Avec bien d’autres facteurs, cela nous permet de conclure que le moment était bien choisi.

And, we managed to finish the project on budget and ahead of schedule, which is a pretty good indicator that we made the right choices.

As our Audit Committee report would suggest, we did well financially.

Nous avons bien fait malgré les difficultés auxquelles nous avons dû faire face, parce que nous avons su faire des choix difficiles et parce qu’il y a eu un effort de réduction, partout où c’était possible, dans toute l’Administration.

I extend my thanks to the Authority Team who stepped up and stood tall throughout the project. They took on jobs that were not their own.

They gave of their personal time, postponed holidays, and made the expansion their priority, all while doing their regular jobs too.

I’m extremely proud to have each and every one of them on the team, and I appreciate the sacrifices they made along the way.

Après l’ouverture, nous avons un peu changé d’articulation. Nous avons commencé à faire certains changements, comme je l’ai déjà mentionné, et nous sommes aussi revenus à nos affaires habituelles.

Nous nous sommes employés à nous préparer pour les mois d’hiver, et les saisons des Fêtes et des vols nolisés.

Et nous avons continué de tenter d’attirer plus de compagnies aériennes et de vols au départ et à destination d’Ottawa.

The low cost carriers announced expansion plans with Ottawa factoring into their plans.

WestJet and CanJet expanded their markets from Ottawa and Jetsgo added frequency to its schedule. The charter business grew significantly, particularly with new entrant Zoom.

SkyService, Air Canada and Air Transat also continued to fly to the sunny south at the pace they set in 2002. Summer charters to the U.K. also went forward as planned with My Travel.

At the end of the year, our passenger traffic stats were up overall by 1.4%. Only the transborder traffic was lower – by 2.04%, whereas domestic and international traffic had increases of 1.89% and 6.92% respectively.

The major crises of 2003 seemed to have levelled off, so we’re cautiously encouraged, and hope to report even better results at this time next year.

So what’s next?

Eh bien, nous avons travaillé fort pour obtenir des vols vers de nouvelles destinations, et j’espère avoir de bonnes nouvelles en 2004.

Nous nous penchons sur les phases futures de notre programme global d’expansion.

Nous cherchons des moyens d’exploiter l’expérience et les compétences que l’équipe a acquises tout au long des projets de construction que nous avons maintenant à notre crédit collectif, en vendant ces services à d’autres aéroports.

And, we’re trying to provide the best customer service that we possibly can.

Of course, we will explore all of the above while applying the same prudent approach to managing the public trust that is the airport that we’ve applied in the past.

Many people ask me about the state of the airline industry as a whole.

In a word, I would say it’s fragile.

But, we are a part of the industry, and we’re doing what we can to help.

It should be noted that the Ottawa Airport did not raise landing fees in 2003.

And, not only did we not raise fees in 2004 either, we actually lowered the landing fees by 10%.

Unlike the feds, we are doing what we can to help the industry.

Speaking of the feds, what about the government and the rent situation?

They still claim to be studying airport rents, and we hope that their analysis will sort itself out before we lose more airlines.

Nous avons toujours promis de faire profiter les compagnies aériennes d’une partie des économies, et nous restons liés par cet engagement.

Donc, nous allons attendre.

Comme je l’ai dit, l’avenir est un peu plus reluisant, et nous l’envisageons avec optimisme.

Merci, thank you.