With its new state-of-the-art terminal, Bermuda’s LF Wade International Airport has never been better equipped to offer passengers a unique and memorable experience, writes Joe Bates.
It may not have had that many visitors yet due to the continued impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but the new terminal at Bermuda’s LF Wade International Airport (BDA) has certainly impressed those lucky enough to have used it in its opening few months.
Anyone doubting the ‘wow’ factor it has added only need to look at some of the feedback from passengers and staff on its opening day.
“Really beautiful”, “Fabulous and spacious”, “Absolutely awesome” and “It looks like a world class airport” were just some of the comments given by passengers when the new $400 million terminal opened for business on December 9, 2020.
And airport operator, Bermuda Skyport, is certain that the new complex – built on a brownfield site around 150 yards away from the old terminal – will prove to be a success and introduce new levels of comfort, safety and service to passengers.
Completed on budget, on time and on spec, the new modern 288,000 square foot facility provides improved passenger processing, increased passenger capacity, greater resilience to extreme weather conditions and a host of new passenger friendly facilities such as enhanced specialty retail and F&B outlets and covered passenger jet bridges.
“It is a game changer for us in more ways than one, and we managed to complete its construction and opening during a once in a century pandemic,” comments Aaron Adderley, president of Bermuda Skyport, noting that new terminal was first mentioned in BDA’s 2008 master plan.
“It will make a huge difference to the way we operate now, and in the years to come. It was needed as the old terminal had passed its life expectancy and its location close to the shoreline meant that it was susceptible to severe weather events.”
The latter threat is no longer an issue, confirms Adderley, due the extra resiliency built into the design of the new complex, which included locating it inland around nine feet higher than the old terminal to avoid the risk of being flooded by ocean storm surges during the hurricane season.
“We have the first new passenger terminal in Bermuda for 70 plus years, so to say that it is a milestone for the island would be somewhat of an understatement,” he reminds me.
“In addition to incorporating a sense of resiliency into the building, we wanted to create something that enhanced the overall passenger experience and provided us with a facility that is both functional and flexible in terms of its use, development and ability to accommodate future technologies.”
Wowing the senses
Focusing on the customer experience side of things, he reveals that the airport adopted a “sensorial” approach to the new terminal in a bid to create something unique that would excite passengers.
“We deliberately targeted the senses,” he explains. “By that I mean we focused on the sense of taste, the sense of place, the sense of hearing and sense of smell.”
By sense of place, he admits that BDA did what a number of other airports around the world have done and replicated examples of the local culture, people, surroundings and popular attractions in its terminal building.
In this regards, Adderley notes that little bits of ‘Bermudiana’ have been incorporated into the interior design of the terminal and can be seen most clearly by the models of cahow and long-tailed birds hanging from the ceiling in the Departures Hall and colourful wayfinding Bermuda kites throughout the building.
The sense of being in Bermuda is also reinforced by a number of photo exhibits throughout the terminal showcasing the island’s flora and fauna, beaches and “everyday people”.
“All help display the sense of pride we feel as Bermudans. This is who we are. This is what we look like. The images in particular are very impactful in terms of their size and vibrancy,” enthuses Adderley.
With regards to the ‘sense of taste’, Adderley believes that F&B partner SSP America – in collaboration with local restauranteur Jennifer Turini Ysseldyke and Bermudian entrepreneur Dennie O’Connor – have come up with a winning formula that ensures that diners at any of the terminal’s three restaurants are guaranteed “a very unique, exciting and vibrant food experience”.
Specifically, the terminal’s pre-security Whistle & Rum Grill with its outdoor terrace, views of the Ocean inlet, water feature and nearby putting green is designed to offer a ‘destination experience’ to both passengers and locals as well as providing a venue to host events and outdoor receptions post COVID-19.
It is complemented by the Rock & Barrel Gastro Bar (US Departures Hold Room); and The Heron & the Sea Public House (International Departures Hold Room) both of which have outdoor dining options that Adderley believes offer a modern, more sophisticated take on BDA’s former outside patios from which generations of Bermudans waved goodbye to their friends and loved ones.
When it comes to ‘sense of smell’, Adderley notes that the airport worked with The Bermuda Perfumery to devise a scent for BDA that visitors would immediately recognise on entering the terminal building and know that their travel adventure is about to begin.
Although it hasn’t been unveiled just yet, he says that the day is close and, for now, passengers can enjoy the sight, sounds and smells of the bespoke retail offerings in BDA’s Somers Isles Trading Company and Love Bermuda shops, which include the products from about 30 different artisans ranging from locally distilled gin, bath and facial products to clothing, candles and scents.
The terminal is also said to offer energy efficiencies, advanced security and improved US Pre-Clearance facilities for US bound passengers – a key upgrade considering that 75% to 80% of BDA’s annual visitors arrive from and depart to the United States.
Pre-Clearance, of course, allows all US bound passengers to clear US Customs and Immigration in Bermuda, instead of on arrival where longer lines often exist.
According to Adderley, this service, present in Bermuda for nearly 50 years, is extremely beneficial to passengers and provides the island with a competitive advantage when seeking new air services to and from the United States.
“The new Pre-Clearance facility was necessary to ensure that we continued to meet the US’s new security requirements, so we were happy to do it, despite the expense involved, because of the advantage it gives us,” he explains.
Although a UK territory, Bermuda’s close proximity to the US – it lies just 643 miles off of the North Carolina coast – means that it has very close ties to the United States. An estimated 8,500 Americans live in Bermuda, for example, and the bulk of the island’s imports and visitors come from the US.
In addition, many Americans have businesses in Bermuda, which in addition to its higher end tourism appeal, is one of the world’s top re-insurance and financial services centres.
Flexibility to adopt future technologies
As well as the advanced technology utilised by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the US concourse at BDA, the new terminal is equipped with a range of state-of-the-art IT systems designed to make passengers’ journeys fast and efficient.
These include self-service check-in kiosks, e-gates, baggage tracking and Computed Topography (CT) X-ray screening technology at security, making BDA more than well equipped for passenger growth when global aviation begins its recovery from the pandemic.
Adderley is also confident that Bermuda Skyport’s decision to build IT flexibility into the terminal’s design means that it is well placed to take onboard the technology of tomorrow, when it comes.
“We believe that the real test of new infrastructure is ensuring that it is not only capable of accommodating the technology that exists today, but also the technology that will come about tomorrow,” he says.
“I believe our technology focus ensures that the new terminal meets this criteria, in effect, future proofing it. This makes us excited about the future and the airport’s growth outlook.”
Build and grow
Agreeing to finance the design and construction of the new terminal was pivotal to the Bermudan government’s 2017 decision to award Bermuda Skyport Corporation Limited the 30-year concession to operate and develop LF Wade International Airport.
For the special-purpose Bermudan company is wholly-owned by Canada’s Aecon Concessions, which had the financial muscle, airport experience and construction expertise to make the dream of a new terminal become reality.
“With the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) and prime contractors, Aecon, the airport was able to find a turnkey solution, bespoke in nature, that afforded Bermuda the opportunity to do what many small airports in the world our size have found difficult to do – namely, to successfully attract private sector investment to finance a major capital redevelopment,” notes Adderley.
“Once again, Bermuda has blazed a trail in setting new standards internationally for others to follow.
“Whilst the project’s business model has proven innovative and comparable with international benchmarks, its economic impacts have proven to be widespread. Nearly 400 local businesses have been contracted since the start of the project and nearly $400 million has been invested in the local economy.
“Over half of the 1.6 million man-hours spent constructing this world class facility were by Bermuda’s own men and women. We should be proud of their quality craftmanship.”
Steve Nackan, president of Aecon Concessions – the project’s developer and financier – is as equally proud of the new terminal as Adderley.
He says: “The genesis of today’s success story lies in the deep-rooted ties between Canada and Bermuda.
“Built upon the kinship of our two countries, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) and the Government of Bermuda partnered with us to develop this much needed new facility.
“CCC – supported by the extended Government of Canada family – have been a true and valued partner – and their diplomatic approach has been a hallmark of the project’s success.
“Together, we mobilised nearly $400 million of private investment – drawn to the long-term promise of Bermuda – and the opportunity to play a part in the revitalisation of Bermuda’s economy.
“And through innovative thinking – we built and proved the model for how small airports can nevertheless achieve world class outcomes.”
Interestingly, BDA’s new terminal is the second public-private partnership (PPP) initiative in Bermuda after the method was used to finance the construction of a major new hospital on the island.
Traffic and route network
Infrastructure wise, the airport has never been better equipped for growth, and Adderley is in no doubt that passengers and BDA’s airlines will enjoy the benefits of the new terminal when COVID-19 is finally beaten, and air travel is back on the agenda.
As you might have expected, 2020 was particularly tough on BDA, which was forced to close for over three months from March 20 to July 1 due to the devastating impact of COVID-19.
The seasonality of its traffic demand didn’t help, with the darkest days of the pandemic overlapping with the start of the traditional May to September peak season for tourism in Bermuda, when BDA typically handles around 20 flights a day.
As a result, BDA’s passenger numbers fell by 80% in 2020 from 2019’s 884,000 to just over 180,000, and Adderley expects 2021 to be another difficult one for LF Wade International Airport, with the most optimistic scenario seeing the gateway reach around 45% to 50% of 2019’s traffic levels before a stronger recovery from 2022 onwards following the global vaccine roll out.
The top three airlines serving BDA in terms of services and market share are American (30%), Delta (25%), and JetBlue (18%).
With the US accounting for up to 80% of all passengers, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that New York and Boston are BDA’s most popular routes, followed by London in the UK.
Charlotte, Miami, Philadelphia and Atlanta are also popular destinations served from BDA along with Toronto in Canada, which is served by both Air Canada and WestJet.
British Airways operates the airport’s only non-stop long-haul service to London, and Adderley is hopeful that the recent switch of the route from Gatwick to Heathrow will benefit BDA as the decision makes it much easier for international travellers from Europe and Asia to connect to Bermuda.
One of the options currently being considered by the island to boost tourism numbers is extending the traditional May to September tourism season into October, as the weather in Bermuda is still mild, and the Bermudan travel industry believes that a pent up demand to travel post pandemic will prove incentive enough to make it worth the gamble.
With only 3,000 hotel beds across the whole island though – less than at one of the big hotel resorts on the Las Vegas strip – there is a clear limit on how big Bermuda can grow as a tourist and business destination.
However, Adderley believes that there is clear room for growth once the pandemic is over because of the appeal of Bermuda and the fact that Bermudans also love to travel – traditionally taking an average of two to three trips abroad each year.
“You have to remember that although Bermuda might be paradise, it is only 22 square miles, and we tend to get rock fever if we don’t take a trip once in a while,” jokes Adderley.
Bermuda’s large expat community is also another reason for the airport to be optimistic that air travel will be high on the agenda again soon. Indeed, the large number of Canadians working in Bermuda was the reason why WestJet launched services to Toronto, and Adderley believes that this could easily be replicated by other airlines in the future.
Prior to the pandemic, the addition of another non-stop service to Europe was high on the wish list of BDA’s route development team, and Adderley assures that it will be again when the timing is right.
He notes: “For now, we will have to settle for people connecting through London, and I am hopeful that BA’s switch to Heathrow and a new publicity campaign by the Bermuda Tourism Authority promoting how easy it now is for Europeans to get to Bermuda will boost passenger numbers.
“But, in the longer-term, we would like another non-stop service to Europe, and we hope to boost our short-haul network by growing our low-cost presence in the US and Canada.”
Next up for BDA
With the airport’s passenger handling facilities now among the best in the region, BDA is set to turn its attentions to the cargo side of the business, which Adderley admits are badly in need of a revamp.
Bermuda Skyport actually agreed to refurbish BDA’s cargo facilities as part of its concession agreement, and despite today’s far from favourable economic conditions, work is expected to begin on the project later this year.
The upgrade will include an expansion to the existing Customs administration facilities and the introduction of new refrigeration capacity for perishable goods.
The bulk of the 6,000 tonnes of cargo handled at BDA each year arrives on a Cargojet B757F aircraft which operates between the US and Bermuda five days a week on behalf of DHL, UPS, FedEx and a number of local couriers.
With a brand new passenger terminal and enhanced cargo facilities on the way, nobody can deny that LF Wade International Airport is looking towards the future with optimism and will be in a great position to develop and grow when the pandemic is finally over.