You don’t need to have a trip planned to be excited about the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) these days. A multi-stage commercial development that will provide an estimated 2,000 jobs to the labour force; the ongoing success of Cargo Village and strategic partnerships that are drawing pilots from all over Canada for training are just some of the projects in progress.
It’s busy on and off the tarmac, but things are running smoothly – thanks to the leadership of president and CEO Tom Ruth.
Ruth joined EIA in 2014, and brought along a rich cargo hold of experience, and experiences. His entire professional career has been in transportation and logistics, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“What I like, and continue to love, is that every day is different and you get a chance to really be impactful,” he says of his long and successful career. “Every day you are moving people or goods all around the world to their adventures and helping businesses grow. It’s long hours and hard work, but it is very rewarding.”
Ruth, a dual US and Canadian citizen, started his career in America as general manager for Northwest Airlines. After 10 years with Northwest, he moved to Canada in 1994 for what was supposed to be a two-year job with Livingston International. The duties that landed him in Toronto to open up ground transportation offices near the border stretched into 10 years of living in Toronto, and a lasting love affair with Canada.
“I fell in love with Canada and I fell in love with a Canadian,” Ruth smiles, “but I started to miss the aviation side of things, so I became president of Canadian North Airlines for three years and moved to the Northwest Territories.”
Ruth and his wife lived in the north from 2004-2007, where he enjoyed profitably growing the 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned airline. His next stop on his ongoing flight of adventures was Montreal, where he took on the role of president for Oceanex. His time at Oceanex was short lived, however. Just months after he signed on, the company became privatized, so he moved to Halifax where spent the next six years as president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority.
On November 14, 2013, EIA announced Tom Ruth as the incoming president and CEO of Edmonton Airports. He commenced duties on January 20, 2014, and things at the airport really took off.
“After safety and security, air service development is our number one job,” Ruth points out. “Over the last 10 years, even with the economic downturn, we are the fastest-growing major airport in Canada. There has been $500,000,000 in development at the airport in the last few years. Business is going to emanate from the airport, so we plan around it, like a mini city. We have the luxury in Edmonton of having more geographical land than any other airport in Canada. We’ve been blessed with being able to do more economic development. Next year we’ll have 2,000 more jobs thanks to the outlet mall and other developments that are going to open.”
“What we do here is all about safety and security. Our mandate is to create economic prosperity for the region in a fiscally responsible way. Everything we do derives from that. More air service means more jobs and more cargo development.”
It’s not an easy job.
“We’re not directly government funded,” says Ruth, dispelling the long-held notion of where money for EIA’s operations come from. “EIA is a non-share, not-for-profit company. Worldwide, most airports are funded by the government. We are not. We run EIA like a public company. When we do an expansion at the airport, we have to ensure that we are being fiscally responsible. We need to generate cash for the expansion, but also generate cash to keep our landing fees low. All our revenues get reinvested back into the airport, so it’s basically a closed loop cash system. The lower the fees, the more flights, the more flights, the better the situation is for the economy.
“When people come to the airport and buy goods on airport property or park their cars in one of our lots, we take every bit of the revenue we generate on site and turn it into keeping our fees low and expanding the airport in the way customers expect us to. Having that balance between fiscal responsibility and keeping fees low for the airlines and passengers is paramount.
“A lot of the general public doesn’t see the integrated steps EIA has in the background to have a myriad of different companies working to ensure the whole experience – from when someone arrives, visits vendors, goes through security, gets on the plane, gets pushed backed on the tarmac and then does the whole thing coming back – is working and teaming well with all the different players. This is absolutely critical for a successful operation.”
The airport is also far more than what tourists and travellers experience. It’s quickly becoming an important destination for pilot training and air cargo, too.
“We’ve got a burgeoning aerotech centre here!” Ruth says, excitement evident in his voice. “It started about two years ago with a joint venture with the Province of Alberta, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and Canadian North installing a Boeing 737 flight simulator at the airport. It’s literally like flying a 737! We have pilots coming from all over Canada to train on this simulator.”
Recently, pilots got another reason to fly to the airport. On November 10, 2016, EIA’s Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre (AATC), in partnership with Canadian Helicopters (an HNZ company), Edmonton International Airport, Canadian North, EEDC and the Government of Alberta opened a state-of-the-art helicopter flight simulation training device.
“[Pilots in training] actually get credit for the hours they are in the simulator. It’s that realistic. Pilots from around the world will be trained here,” says Ruth.
AATC’s advancements are happening as another area of the airport, Cargo Village, continues to expand.
Cargo Village boasts rapid customs and warehousing services for international cargo, with runways and services available to accommodate the world’s largest cargo aircraft, including the famous Antonov. Edmonton International Airport and private logistics companies have invested over $100 million in upgrades to cargo infrastructure over the past three years, and is home to 24 cargo-carrying airlines, including eight dedicated freight carriers, plus onsite cargo handlers, freight forwarders and customs brokers.
“International cargo is important for a region,” confirms Ruth. “Air cargo is 2 per cent of the volume of goods shipped in the world, but 35 per cent of the value.”
He points out an exciting Cargo Village development. “Air China Cargo is flying the only freighter flight from mainland China into Canada, and it goes through Edmonton. This is the only dedicated freighter flight flying from China to Edmonton and then to the United States. We are connecting these huge economies through Edmonton, which is a boon for small and medium-sized businesses.
Ruth loves to see how the world comes together at the airport, and perhaps that’s because he’s lived in so many places around the globe. He has been on the beach of every major ocean as well as the Great Lakes, but now he’s happy to call Edmonton home.
“It’s just a fabulous city. I knew Edmonton quite well from my time in Yellowknife and [my wife and I] knew what we were getting into, but it exceeded all our expectations. The business community is, and continues to be, very embracing. My wife is on half a dozen volunteer boards and is engaged in the community. We just love it here. Living near Old Strathcona and downtown, we love the festivals and there is always something to do. We also love biking in the River Valley.”
He’s enjoying his time and role at EIA. “I tell people, if you are ever having a bad day, go to the arrivals area and watch families and friends connecting. On a daily basis, we get to connect people and goods from all over the world and it’s a cauldron of emotions. We have people coming inbound and outbound, speaking so many different languages. Some are coming for funerals or going to weddings or graduations. There is all this stuff happening and we get to facilitate all those moments and connections for people. We are impacting people’s lives here.
“On the cargo side, as we grow our cargo business we are creating all these air pipelines that are allowing businesses in their regions to help businesses grow.
“If you are part of the 6,000 plus people working at the airport, you have a chance to impact people’s lives. Our company’s culture is so important and is really critical to our success. How people feel about their job, their role, and their chance to make a difference is important. For me, leadership is about fostering a really open and engaged corporate culture. That is paramount. Being able to be transparent and to have open communication and two-way feedback so we can stay close to the pulse of our business is really critical.
“When I think about what’s helped me in my career, it is staying connected to my roots, which are the communities I’ve lived in around the world. I’m always influenced and amazed by the goodness of people wherever I’ve been, and I embrace the chance to be involved in a business where I’m interacting with so many people.”
For Ruth, community engagement also means giving back, which is something he and his family are happy to do. EIA also invests in the community with over 50 partnerships across a variety of industry sectors. EIA’s most significant charity event is the annual September golf outing that has raised approximately $795,000 over the last six years to be distributed among the Leduc & District Food Bank, Youth Empowerment & Support Services (YESS) and Riseup Society.
For a man so inspired by his past, Ruth loves to keep his eyes on the horizon, where he sees plenty of good things coming down the runway.
“What you will see more and more of at EIA is continued work to provide air pipelines – more flights to more places, which is our mission. We will continue to diversify our commercial development around the airport and create ancillary jobs related to aeronautical growth and natural development. As for me, personally, I just want to be part of the continued growth in this region.”
As the airport continues to grow under Ruth’s leadership, the entire region benefits from the vision of what EIA strives to be: an economic hub that moves people and goods, metaphorically and physically. It’s a place where dreams take flight. It’s a place of real connections for individuals and businesses; and for Tom Ruth, the man that has lived, worked and played on almost every continent on the globe, it is where he feels right at home.