Myron Keehn, President & CEO of Edmonton International Airport (YEG), sees his role as more than running the airport. He sees it as a chance to turn it into an economic driver and job creator while making a difference in the lives of the people that work at, and travel through, YEG.
“I believed our airport is and can be a gamechanger for the Edmonton Metro Region and Canada’s North,” says Keehn.
His aviation sector experience has taken him around the world and he’s excited to bring that global inspiration to the capital city.
Keehn says, “My diverse experiences have given me a unique perspective on the critical role airports play in communities. When the opportunity to work at YEG arose, I saw the potential to shift YEG’s role from a utility to having a real economic impact in our region. However, even with this potential, this ability to turn the opportunity into reality is because of the team at YEG and the previous great CEOs and Board of Directors who dared to imagine the art of the possible. It is the people, not only at the airport but within our community, that attracted me to YEG and the reason why I have been here for 15 years.”
Despite a long career in aviation, it was not Keehn’s original plan.
“Only because at that time I did not see aviation beyond airplanes and airports,” Keehn explains. “Over my career, I have learned that aviation is an extremely complex business involving many different sectors and industries. Airports are vital assets to communities. They are economic engines that drive activity, jobs and investment. It’s not just about the movement of people but also goods.”
He describes his five overarching goals for YEG.
“First, airports are economic enablers that can accelerate growth. We are working towards growing our network of nonstop flight destinations and capacity for key routes, which can help facilitate investment, business attraction and visitors. The number one consideration that site selectors look at is access – this drives investment and import/export, which also helps groups like our agri-food producers.
“The second is redeveloping our terminal through innovation expansion. We have invested in providing a personalized passenger experience by integrating technology and digitization to streamline our operations.
“Third, we are investing in infrastructure to facilitate growth as we increase our passenger numbers and cargo activity.
“Fourth is a commitment to ESG (environmental, social and governance). As an airport, we are global leaders in ESG and sustainable aviation. We have made several commitments in hydrogen, solar, sustainable aviation fuel, nature-based solutions and so forth in our goal to reach net zero by 2040. YEG recently won two international awards for our leadership in sustainability; the Corporate Sustainability Award from The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and the Sustainability Award from Ground Handling International. Both awards were in recognition of our inspirational leadership in environmental initiatives at YEG’s Airport City Sustainability Campus and our impacts in transforming air cargo and ground handling operations.
“Lastly and most importantly, it’s the people and our YEG team. We have attracted and developed the best talent in aviation at our airport.”
The focus on the five aforementioned areas has yielded great success.
“YEG has the largest landmass of any airport in Canada, with over 7,000 acres of land, which we have unlocked to create the Airport City Sustainability Campus,” he explains. “Additionally, in the three years prior to COVID, we generated over $3.2B of economic output and supported over 26,000 jobs. We have also attracted over $1.5B in private investment from local and international partners, which is the most of any airport in North America.”
That’s not all. Keehn continues, “Working with our partners, we have created five incubators to help accelerate the growth of start-up and scale-up companies in our community. Some examples of companies include Indigenous Box, AERIUM Analytics, Wild and Pine, Absolute Combustion and VEXSL.”
Of course, the pandemic had an effect on YEG. With travel taking one of the biggest hits, Keehn and his team decided to be proactive instead of reactive.
“Our team continued to work hard during the pandemic. We weren’t sitting idly by and neither were our municipalities. Our community came together to build the Regional Air Service Opportunities Fund to drive more passenger and cargo activity. This has resulted in more destinations now than before the pandemic, even though we were shut down internationally for 18 months. We also experienced record cargo growth when global cargo volumes were declining.”
YEG continues to make changes following the pandemic.
“We remain focused on the health and safety of our passengers to keep travel a safe and positive experience for everyone,” smiles Keehn. “As we are on the path to recovery, we see the demand for travel continually increasing. We are expecting to reach 90 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger levels by the end of this year, marking a much faster recovery than we projected and hoped for in the depths of the pandemic. In 2022, we collaborated with existing airline partners to gain four brand-new destinations and resume service to 24 destinations, while continuing to increase capacity to more than 50 non-stop destinations.”
This collaboration with airline partners has seen the addition of Lynx Air and Porter Airlines, WestJet’s largest network expansion in the airline’s history (including new US routes and non-stop service to Minneapolis and Seattle) and Condor’s non-stop seasonal flights to Frankfurt.
Condor’s flights are a very strategic move for YEG. Keehn says, “The seasonal service boosts our region’s access to Europe and the world. Frankfurt Airport is a key global hub with 300 destinations in 98 countries. Connecting with international hubs is an important step in re-stimulating the economy. This new flight will help propel and diversify both business and leisure travel and provide efficient cargo access for the movement of goods between continental Europe and Alberta, the Canadian Prairies and Canada’s North.”
Also proving popular is KLM’s non-stop route to Amsterdam, Air Canada’s daily service to San Francisco and United’s twice daily service to Denver. Recently, Air Canada also launched its first sun destination they have served from Edmonton in over 10 years – Cancun.
Additional routes were not the only changes inspired by COVID. YEG now has touchless check-in kiosks for departures, UV-C coated handrails on the busiest escalators and virtual queueing thanks to the YEG EXPRESS online reservation system.
Outside of COVID, important upgrades continue to take place as Keehn and his team strive to be an “Airport for Everyone.” Under this initiative is Aria, an app that provides a live agent to help people who have low vision or who are blind navigate the airport. It also includes the Sunflower program, which helps people with hidden disabilities like autism or anxiety be able to get extra time or help with navigating the airport. YEG’s pet therapy sees cute dogs (with their handlers) calming nervous flyers in the terminal. Speaking of dogs, YEG features several pet relief areas for service animals.
From the flights to the customer care to the “Airport for Everyone” initiatives, it all adds up to a seamless experience for all involved.
“YEG is successful because of our YEG airport team,” says Keehn. “We have over a dozen organizations that are involved in seeing a flight off – NAV Canada, customs, security, catering, de-icing, baggage, check in, etc. It is a complex operation and we all work closely together. Our most valuable asset is our people and the successes we achieve in every facet of our airport are because of our talented and engaged team. We are dedicated to creating a culture of purpose and mastery in our business and we do this by offering opportunities for education and growth, fostering an innovation culture where it’s safe to challenge the norm and communicating our ambitions and goals regularly within all business areas.”
Yet it is not all smooth sailing…or should we say…flying. There are some areas where YEG experiences turbulence.
“Economies are cyclical and we want to work collaboratively with our community to support our air service and connectivity,” admits Keehn. “We live in an increasingly global and connected world. We are competing not only in Canada but globally for flights.”
Keehn set out to make YEG an economic driver because he believes Alberta continues to have an advantage for businesses and individuals alike.
“The opportunity that we have here in Alberta, and particularly in the Edmonton region, is something you can’t find anywhere else,” he says. “The quality of life, pioneering spirit, camaraderie, collaboration and ‘coopetition’ (cooperation, even amongst competitors) are what makes Alberta an advantageous place in which to live, work and do business.”
Anyone flying non-stop from YEG can help drive the Alberta advantage and help grow the airport.
Keehn explains how by saying, “When planning your flight, it is important to always fly to/from Edmonton International Airport. Airlines respond to demand and the air industry is competitive. Airlines decide where they fly based on seats filled and they are very careful to ensure sufficient demand for a new route. It is important to continue using YEG as a departure/arrival airport to trigger data collected by airlines to indicate that we are a viable location to introduce new routes or increase demand for current routes. Be sure to advocate that with friends, family and colleagues in other regions outside of Edmonton to use YEG as their connecting hub.”
Intent on helping the community thrive, YEG gives back robustly to charitable and non-profit interests by supporting approximately 100 charities through its Community Investment Program.
“The program supports organizations that build community spirit, provide long-term benefits and enhance the region’s quality of life. We also host an annual charity golf classic that has raised over $1M in seven years. The Edmonton Metro Region has a great community and partners that all rally together to support our region,” Keehn adds.
Under Keehn’s leadership, YEG is thriving despite two years of pandemic disruptions; but, after 15 years he is just warming up. There are plenty of good things ahead as he works with YEG to continue executing on its vision.
“Our vision is simple: more flights to more places. We know people don’t want to connect through other airports and wish to fly non-stop to their end destination. We hear this and are listening to our community,” smiles Keehn. “We will continuously speak to international audiences to attract new air routes, more cargo service, more business investment and more visitors to our airport and in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
“Providing efficient, affordable travel is an important part of the recovery of the aviation and travel industries and YEG is focusing on attracting affordable airlines as they play a huge role in supporting industry growth and success. Ultra-low-cost carriers open up a new audience and demographic for YEG and provide increased service to new and existing destinations.”
Plans also continue to innovate and grow Airport City Sustainability Campus.
“The campus provides opportunities for businesses to push the boundaries in fields like AI, drones, reforestation and energy sources such as solar and hydrogen. Additionally, in 2023, our partners are breaking ground on the world’s largest airport-based solar farm. The solar farm is being developed in partnership with Alpin Sun on 627 acres of YEG’s southwestern lands. It will provide enough electricity for approximately 28,000 homes and offset about 106,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. We are using our Airport City Sustainability Campus to be home to Canada’s first consumer-facing hydrogen hub, bringing together local and international companies to form partnerships, test new technologies and showcase the power of emissions-free hydrogen fuel.”
YEG will also play a role in helping to reverse the cargo and shipping challenges brought on by COVID.
Keehn is happy to share, “In 2022, the federal government announced $100 million in funding to increase our cargo and logistics handling in the new International Cargo Hub. This will convert approximately 2,000 acres of land to a global cargo hub, expanding our multi-modal distribution throughout Canada, the United States of America and Mexico. The development includes new runway connections and taxiways to integrate new cargo handling aprons with direct airside handling operations and expansive facilities for handling, warehousing, automated e-commerce logistics and distribution.”
YEG is here to move you, in more ways than one. It’s a hub that transports goods and people while leading in sustainability practices and showing that aviation can be done in the most efficient, tech-forward and eco-friendly ways.
Did you know…
YEG is strategically located in North America – all flights from Asia to the east coast and flights from Europe to the west coast fly over Edmonton. This means, YEG is home to the largest controlled air space in the world!