The New Fort McMurray International Airport: Gateway to Canada’s Oil Sands

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by Jesse Meyer
Manager, Marketing, Communications and Air Service Development
Fort McMurray Airport Authority

The new YMM terminal, at the top of this May 2014 photo. The original YMM terminal, at the bottom, will be used for workforce charters, cargo and private aircraft.

Prior to its opening on June 9, the new Fort McMurray International Airport (YMM) set a goal to redefine air travel in terms of convenience and improving the overall customer experience for the nearly 1.2 million passengers who travel through annually. Not only is the new terminal building easier and faster to move through, customers will experience a new level of comfort in our departure lounges and exceptional selection in retail and dining, as well as a sense of place.

The new terminal building is approximately 15,000 square feet the size of approximately two-and-a-half Canadian football fields) and cost $258 million. It includes four aircraft bridges, two baggage carrousels, and more than 2,200 powered parking stalls.

One of the highlights of the new terminal is the concession program. SNC-Lavalin Airport Group was responsible for assembling a world class offering. From gifts and magazines to meals and beverages, YMM will feature 16 retail and food and beverage outlets to serve the full spectrum of needs while travelling. Passengers arriving at the airport looking for a place to eat will be able to choose from a wider selection of food options including two full service restaurants. The new terminal also will feature numerous digital and dynamic advertising screens including a massive 200 square-foot video wall in the arrivals hall.

An Award Winning State-of-the-Art Terminal

Check-in at the new YMM terminal

Northern Alberta has a natural beauty that is distinctive with dense boreal forest, limitless horizons, and the impressive northern lights. The design of the building had to take into account the drastic range of seasonal temperatures from -45°C/-49°F in winter to +35°C/95°F during the summer. This created some unique challenges that have been addressed beautifully in both form and function of this new building designed by the office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers. Stantec managed the project while Ledcor was responsible for its construction. The design for the new terminal project was named among 11 award winners of the 2013 Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence for embodying qualities of innovation and overall design excellence. The new terminal is designed to serve a modern and forward-thinking community, providing a springboard for the world as well as a welcoming gateway for residents and visitors alike.

The materials used express the drastic contrast of the region. Weathering steel, bitumen-colored metal cladding and unfinished concrete are among the many design features that add to the palette of the industrial landscape. These industrial materials are complemented with refined yet durable materials to polish the interior space using triple glazing, terrazzo flooring, acoustic wood panels and exposed mass timber structure.

This concept of green building practices is evident in a number of innovative features throughout the building design process. The highlights include passive solar orientation, energy optimization, super-insulated building envelope assemblies, in-floor radiant heating, displacement ventilation, and sophisticated heat-recovery systems.

A large south-facing courtyard was developed to give passengers an outdoor area to visit while passively harnessing the sun’s energy to reduce energy consumption throughout the building.

The most noted unique design element is the mass exposed timber assemblies in the ceiling and wall structure. These use reclaimed wood from the devastating pine beetle epidemic in British Columbia to provide both structure and a warm finish to the interior of the building.

Departure lounge in the new YMM terminal

With its focus on passenger comfort and convenience and its ambition to capture the grandeur and beauty of the region it connects to the rest of the world, the new Fort McMurray International Airport will provide an exciting first and last impression for visitors and the Wood Buffalo community and northern Alberta for generations to come.