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Though it serves a small population in Canada’s Prairies, Saskatoon International Airport is making big changes to better accommodate its growing passengers and air carriers.
Situated in a city of just over 273,000 people, Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport (CYXE), also known under the brand name “Skyxe,” is making big changes.
Though it serves the sparsely populated province of Saskatchewan, the airport is continuing to see higher numbers in many operational aspects. As numbers continue to grow, so too does the need for improved technologies and infrastructure.
Skyxe saw just over 97,000 aircraft movements in 2018, up two per cent from 2017, and welcomed 1.5 million passengers in the same year – the most in the airport’s history. C.J. Dushinski, vice-president of Business Development and Service Quality at Skyxe, said although 2019 has brought unexpected challenges to the airport (mainly with the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft in Canada), “from a passenger perspective we’re still growing, which is great to see.”
In response to that growth, Skyxe has been and is continuing to implement changes to technology within the airport to ensure smooth operations for both its passengers and air carriers. Last year, the airport started work on the replacement of its entire baggage system with a Glidepath system – a project that is set to wrap up this summer. “That will hopefully allow us to process bags more efficiently and take us into the future,” said Dushinski.
The airport is also nearing the end of its Terminal Modernization Project, which started in 2015 with a complete renovation of the main terminal. The final phase of the modernization project started earlier this summer with an $18 million project to renovate and modernize Skyxe’s check-in and departures hall with numerous technological updates.
“To date, we hadn’t really been investing a ton in technology in that space; now, we’re moving to a common-use platform, which allows us to really invest into more kiosks and self bag drops, and really making that space more efficient for both our airlines and passengers,” said Dushinski, adding that the project is expected to be completed later this fall.
Looking forward to 2020, Skyxe plans to begin the same modernization project in its arrivals hall.
Keeping the technology ball rolling, the airport recently brought in a frozen yogurt robot as a new and fun way to serve passengers.
“We’re looking at how we can utilize technology to cut back on labour costs and other things to provide more services to our passengers,” Dushinski told Skies. “So, that frozen yogurt robot is open 24-7, and it doesn’t need to be staffed. And it’s just something that we’re trying to infuse into all parts of our facility.”
Another big and fairly recent change at the airport has been the introduction of Uber, the popular transportation service. While the provincial legislation for Uber to begin operations in Saskatchewan wasn’t passed until December 2018, the ridesharing service didn’t start in Saskatoon until February of this year. The airport reached decisions on logistics and safety soon thereafter, and Uber officially began pick-up and drop-off operations at Skyxe on June 24, Dushinski said.
“So far it’s been really well received,” she added. “We’re in a city that doesn’t have as many public transit options — up until a few years ago, we didn’t have the city bus service. We want to make sure that our passengers have ways to get here that fit within their means and within their plan.”
Airside, the rehabilitation of Runway 15/33 wrapped up at the end of June, which Dushinski said was a major project that required a lot of co-ordination between the airport’s partners and airlines, as well as Nav Canada, “because you have to stay live and stay operational 24-7.”
The challenge was finding the right window to do the construction. For Skyxe, that was overnight from midnight to 5 a.m. during the final four weeks of the project, which initially began in the summer of 2018.
“I think we impacted two flights in the end, that we couldn’t accept that were coming in late . . . But two flights out of that entire period . . . kudos to our team for managing the operational and logistical aspect of that. I think they did a really amazing job,” said Dushinski, adding that the next airside project to focus on is apron expansion.
For Skyxe, implementing these updates goes back to serving its passengers and community. And Dushinski said the airport seizes any opportunity it can to bring the community spirit into the airport –something that is apparent in the Skyxe brand, which combines the provincial abbreviation, SK, with the idea that Saskatchewan is known as “the land of the living skies,” and tying into the airport code, YXE.
“At the end of the day, our mandate is to serve the community,” she said.