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The passing of John C. Munro, a long-time Liberal MP and cabinet minister from Hamilton, Ont., was a national news story in the summer of 2003, prompting coverage in The Globe and Mail and many other publications across the country.
Munro was remembered as a tireless worker, a political scrapper, and a “pit bull” who fought for the rights of the underdog. He was one of the most prominent politicians Hamilton has produced, a name that will not be soon forgotten.
“He was the feistiest, most stubborn person I knew in public life,” said former Hamilton mayor Bob Morrow in a Toronto Star obituary.
“He used those qualities to do a lot for the city. I don’t think we will ever meet his equal of scaring up funds for Hamilton.”
John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (CYHM), Canada’s largest overnight express cargo airport and its fastest-growing airport by passenger volume in 2017, is among the most prominent examples of Munro’s legacy.
Built in 1940 as an Air Force training station, the airport transitioned into a public facility after the Second World War. Many politicians hoped it would become a regional transportation hub.
Munro was instrumental in bringing that dream to fruition, securing a $55 million federal investment to expand and develop the airport’s existing facilities in the early 1980s. In April 1998, city council acknowledged Munro’s efforts by naming the airport after him.
Today, CYHM is one of Canadian aviation’s biggest success stories.
With the arrival of low-cost carrier Flair Airlines (formerly NewLeaf Travel Co.), and expanded service from Air Canada and WestJet, passenger volumes jumped 80 per cent in 2017 to a total of 599,146.
“Because of the low fares, you now have people that are travelling that would potentially not have travelled before,” said Cathie Puckering, airport president and CEO.
“And what we’re seeing is that demographic is changing, it’s different, with Millennials, young families with children.
“You also have the opportunity of people travelling more frequently now because that fare is very attractive to them.”
Ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) often target smaller, secondary markets like Hamilton, and they figure to play a large role in any continued growth in 2018 and beyond.
Canada Jetlines announced last year it intends to make Hamilton its primary base, and Swoop, WestJet’s entry into the ULCC market, also plans to offer flights to and from the city.
“As a secondary airport, our cost structure is lower,” said Puckering. “We also provide ease of access. For the airlines and for the passengers, it’s easier to get to, it’s easier to operate in, it’s easier for aircraft to turn around.
“So it’s a quicker experience, which translates into cost savings or affordable travel for anyone. And that’s strategically important for the success of a low-cost carrier, where they’re able to minimize their costs by utilizing an airport such as us.”
Hamilton saw 11,735 aircraft movements in 2017, and cargo volume jumped by 14 per cent to 499,211,000 kilograms in total landed billable weight.
“Our 24/7 operation provides a strategic advantage over other airports,” said Puckering. “We’re able to connect Canada, from a hardware perspective, overnight, with no restrictions on the timing.”
With increases in online shopping and e-commerce, the demand for cargo continues to grow, and the future looks bright.
“Lower operating costs translate into financial savings, which is very attractive to them,” said Puckering, referring to cargo carriers.
“They look at Hamilton as being the airport of choice for them to continue to grow their operations. We would expect at a minimum, on an annual basis, at least organic growth.”
Hamilton invested nearly $5 million in airport upgrades last year, including runway, taxiway and roadway resurfacing; a new covered and heated international walkway; refurbished retail facilities, and the purchase of new snow clearing equipment.
“Our investment strategy has always been to align our spending to what the air carriers and the passengers and our cargo partners need,” said Puckering.
“Our role in Hamilton is, we are an economic engine. We drive employment, we drive growth, we generate jobs, we increase taxation, and we are an area that Hamilton has designated for employment growth with adjacent lands around the airport.
“It all comes down to the economic impact and the direct and indirect jobs, and all the other ancillary benefits that are derived from that.”
As the airport moves forward, there is a fair measure of excitement. Passenger volumes in 2018 are trending upward at a pace similar to last year, and additional ULCCs could push them even higher.
“We just want to continue building on the momentum and the successes that we saw last year,” said Puckering.
“We’re committed to delivering an easy and a convenient experience for all of our customers, whether they be passenger or cargo, and enabling the movement of goods and people through our region and beyond.”