New Outdoor Deck Relieves Passenger Congestion at Charlottetown Airport

New Outdoor Deck Relieves Passenger Congestion at Charlottetown Airport
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

While some airports have struggled to recover passenger traffic lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, the opposite is true at Charlottetown Airport (YYG) on Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada. In 2023, the airport recorded 402,686 passengers—an increase of more than 18% from 2022. And that number is expected to rise again this year. 

This demand created new challenges. As the 2022 summer travel season wound down, it was apparent to airport officials that the existing departure lounge could not comfortably handle the surge of traffic YYG was experiencing. This was especially true in July and August, notes Chief Executive Officer Doug Newson. “About one-third of our total annual passenger traffic came in those two months alone,” he explains. “It was not a pleasant experience for our customers.”

To alleviate congestion, Newson and his team knew that improvements had to be made before the 2023 travel season started. Fortunately, groundwork for expanding the departure area had already been laid in the master plan developed by Airbiz in 2019, just before the pandemic hit and effectively closed down all of Prince Edward Island. Like many other organizations, the airport put infrastructure plans on hold until the major public health crisis subsided.


Project: Outdoor Deck

Location: Charlottetown Airport, on Prince Edward Island

Size: 4,000 sq. ft.

Cost: $1.6 million 

Funding: Airport

Planning: June-Dec. 2022

Design: Feb. to April 2023

Construction: April-July 2023

Master Plan & Facility Planning: Airbiz

Chief Architect: SableARC

General Contractor: Fitzgerald & Snow

Electrical Contractor: R. Cudmore Electrical

Glazing Contractor: O’Connor Glass

Structural Steel Contractor: MQM Quality Manufacturing

Sprinkler: Troy Life & Safety

Civil & Structural Engineer: SCL Engineering

Mechanical Engineer: MCA Consultants

Electrical Engineer: Richardson Associates

Key Benefits: Less congestion in terminal; pleasant outdoor alternative for passengers waiting to board flights; cost-effective use of space aligns with seasonal travel pattern

However, YYG may have been the first airport in Canada to recover from the pandemic and then exceed 2019 traffic levels. Its 2023 passenger volume was about 5% higher than in 2019. Newson theorizes that the low population and geographic isolation of Prince Edward Island worked in its favor. “We are a small island, with only 175,000 people,” he explains. “During COVID, we had the strictest rules in Canada for allowing people from the mainland here. Besides our airport, there is only one bridge for passenger traffic and a ferry service. We were pretty isolated. As a result, we recovered faster than other provinces.

“We also are a popular summer destination, with beautiful beaches and many other recreational activities. A lot of people have second homes here, which were hard to access during the pandemic. There was a pent-up demand for people to come back here when things opened up.”

The island airport’s 2019 master plan has four phases to expand and improve virtually every section of the terminal over the course of 20 years. “We are forecasting that YYG will reach 700,000 passengers by 2040, so our proposal recommended several projects that the airport would need to do over time to accommodate the growth in traffic,” says Martin Leprohon, head of Analytics and Modeling at Airbiz.

Sooner Rather Than Later

Given the airport’s healthy COVID rebound, the first phase—expanding the departure lounge—needed to be addressed immediately. “The airport decided that adding an outdoor boarding area would be relatively simple and inexpensive to do and could be done by mid-July 2023,” Leprohon adds.

During development, the area was dubbed “the Dock,” and that name has stuck.

The Airbiz team counseled Newson to leave the design and space planning in the hands of a local architecture firm that could also work with the building contractor on day-to-day issues.

“Our main responsibility at YYG is as a consulting service,” clarifies Airbiz Managing Director Kerr Lammie. “Expanding the boarding lounge area was just one part of all the projects planned for the next few years. Our main role has been to review ideas developed by the airport and design/construction teams.”

The design contract was awarded to SableARC, a local firm that had completed many projects in and around Charlottetown. Upon kick-off of the design process, Airbiz provided a handover to SableARC outlining the functional objectives of the project.

“We started the design process in February 2023,” states Principal Architect Robert Haggis. “We knew we had to have the design done by late April, to give the contractor enough time to build the Dock. It was an ambitious timetable to meet.”

Alfresco Asset

The overall design concept was simple: an open-air deck with colorful Adirondack chairs facing the airfield to offer departing travelers a pleasant, outdoor environment before boarding their flights. After all, Prince Edward Island is known for its favorable weather in July, August and early September.

To withstand the harsh winters that inevitably follow the beautiful summers, Haggis and his team specified a concrete floor for the outdoor deck. For security without impeding the views, 10-foot-tall windows enclose the area on three sides. The designers added three identical V-shaped canopies, shaped to resemble aircraft wings, to protect people from the sun and light rain. The three canopies overlap but do not connect to maintain the feel of open space. 

“We tried to simulate a deck in someone’s cottage, where they might sit and enjoy the view of the sea,” says Haggis. “In our case, of course, it is the airfield that is the focal point.”

Patrons are allowed to bring food and beverages from the concessions kiosks in the boarding area outside to the open-air deck.

Originally, the Dock was intended to be a temporary structure for extra holdroom capacity, and it would be torn down after future expansion projects were completed in the main terminal. However, due to its popularity, it will likely remain in place, and future construction will be planned around it.

Other Improvements

This spring and summer, YYG is working with Airbiz on the second phase of its master plan—improving and expanding other parts of the main terminal building. “They are a great asset,” Haggis says of the airport’s planning consultant. “I thought we all worked together nicely last year preparing plans for the Dock.”

The chief contractor, Fitzgerald and Snow of Charlottetown, was also a vetted partner that had recent experience at the airport. “This was a fairly standard project for us,” says Chris McQuillan, the company’s project engineer. “Our biggest challenge was finishing the Dock by mid-July.”

Obtaining necessary building materials has been a challenge for many airports in both Canada and the United States, but that was not the case at YYG. “Virtually all construction materials have to be imported from other provinces, as well as the United States,” McQuillan relates. “For this project, we were able to order and obtain key materials such as galvanized steel, wiring and the security windows without any problems.”

Construction started in April 2023. Placing the three canopies in exactly the right spots and reinforcing them properly was a painstaking process, McQuillan notes. The canopies face south, so they can be used as platforms for future solar panels.

When installing the windows, crews had to coordinate closely with airport security staff, since access to the Dock is only for departing passengers who have cleared the security checkpoint. Nets were placed around the project worksite to maintain airfield security. 

The 10-foot windows frame three sides, enclosing the patio space. Passengers enter and exit from doors within the terminal building.

McQuillan and his team had to be very organized to meet the mid-July deadline. “We probably had about 10 people on-site at various times,” he recalls. “We worked around flight schedules, especially in May and June, when air traffic was starting to surge.”

Fortunately, the contractor got a break and didn’t suffer any weather delays. “Prince Edward Island can get some nasty storms in March and April,” McQuillen explains. “We did not need to use any overtime to get this job done on schedule.”

The Dock opened in late July 2023 and remained open until late October, when the weather turned chilly. It quickly became a popular feature, and Newson is confident it will help ease the passenger congestion again this summer. “The feedback I received last year was very positive, from both our passengers and employees,” he concludes. “I think it will make a big difference during this summer’s busy tourist season.”


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