#TBay’s Airport: Flying High with Big-picture Thinking and Collaboration

We have an amazing airport here in Thunder Bay. Granted, it’s got an advantage; YQT is the largest airport of its size for about 600km in any direction. It makes sense that the Thunder Bay Airport is busy and growing with the North.

But our airport is more than just a well-oiled machine moving people between the ground and the air; it’s also an ambassador offering our visitors gracious first impressions and pleasant last experiences of Thunder Bay. Our airport is a rain-maker, cultivating partnerships that bring more business to the city. It’s also a customer that, with an international delivery system literally stopping outside its doors, chooses over and over again to shop local. The goal of all of it, every choice made by the airport’s management and Board, is to enrich our community, and we hope you’ll join us in recognizing the remarkable work these people do as they Choose Thunder Bay First time after time.

No more last-minute panicking because you forgot to stop for Persians, folks – now you can get them before you board. Last fall, the airport launched a new partnership with local business owners to capture more of the food dollars spent on the premises. As part of their 2018 renovations, a foodservice space was constructed within the departures lounge. Now operated as Nomad by Pinetree Catering, the café offers fresh grab-and-go meals made by hand, featuring ingredients produced and farmed in the region. More recently, the second-floor food court was revamped and new partnerships created between operator Aramark and local businesses like Sleeping Giant Brewing Co, Eat Local Pizza, Thunder Bay Meat Processing, B&B Farms and Bennett’s Bakery to establish a new menu featuring ingredients and favourite recipes from local suppliers. Move over, National Franchise: over 18 different companies now have products showcased at our airport.

Our airport shops local: 86% local, in fact. The Thunder Bay International Airport Authority’s 2018 Annual Report shows that the airport spent $15.4 million last year. That’s higher than average because of the impressive renovations they did, but it’s also the third year in a row that they’ve spent over 86% of their budget with local businesses, putting $13.2 million back into the Thunder Bay economy. Airport CEO Ed Schmidtke says they’d spend more here if they could, but that “there are some things you just can’t buy locally. Nobody’s making escalators or de-icer here yet.” Chances are, if ever those items do become available locally they’ll be purchased locally; one of their Board’s stated objectives is whenever possible, support our local economy.

The impressive 2018 renovations include the updates to the foodservice spaces, lovely aesthetic touches of natural wood and stonework that evoke the greys and blues of Lake Superior and the Canadian Shield, and a sleek and airy new Customs Hall that will make coming back from your winter getaway a lot smoother. Throughout this new space you’ll find indigenous art, including the banners from Tanya Talaga’s Massey Hall lectures and beautiful pieces generously shared by students and staff from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School.

Our airport recruits employers to Thunder Bay. Although to most of us the benefits are obvious only in improved food choices, nicer-looking lounges and a bunch of new flights available every year, within the aviation industry our airport is a source of increasing interest. The airport’s growing capacity and its leadership’s forward-looking attitude has resulted in, for example, Porter Airlines bringing 18 new aviation maintenance jobs to their Thunder Bay base this past February. This in turn opens the door for Porter to potentially maintain more aircraft here, further growing their base of operations in Thunder Bay, adding more to our economy.

Next time you walk through the terminal building, take a moment to look around at the results of the renovations, the partnerships and the ongoing commitment to Choose TBay First. Our airport is an amazing demonstration of what can be done through big picture thinking and collaboration.