There would be no community here if not for the airport," said Reg Wright, director of marketing for the Gander International Airport Authority.
"Aviation is completely intertwined with our history, culture and lifestyle."
Selected for its strategic location on the Great Circle Route over the Atlantic Ocean
, the Gander airport opened in 1938, and was the largest airport in the world by 1940.
Its location and infrastructure thrust Gander into the spotlight when the Second World War erupted in September 1939.
With its four paved runways, the airport became the main launch point for ferrying thousands of North American-built aircraft to Europe.
According to Wright
, as many as 10,000 Canadian, American and British troops were stationed at Gander
during the war.
"It's a living museum," said Wright
"The international lounge in particular has not changed.
The chairs are the same, with the same terrazzo floor from Italy.
Every year, people come and visit, and collectors are always offering to buy vintage items."
When the international lounge was constructed, no expense was spared.
It represented Canada's chance to shine in the global spotlight, so every effort was made to put the country's best and most modern foot forward.
"It was a totally different era," explained Wright
"We cater to the corporate jet market," said Wright
"The first rule of servicing famous people is you can't be star struck, although it does depend on the celebrity.
John Travolta, for example, has been known to do his
Staying Alive routine upon request from the catering staff, even though I'm sure he's
tired of it!
The ladies just love it."
Gander's heyday ended with the introduction of extended-range jets in the 1960s.
"Our story has been about change," noted Wright
"There are a quarter million flights over the Atlantic every year that red circle us in case something goes wrong," said Wright
said the current challenge for the Gander International
Airport Authority, which operates the airport, is reinventing the facility to make it more relevant to today's aviation industry.
"From my perspective, I look at the 'now.' We have a rich history, but I try not to let it drag behind us," he
"A lot of our reinvention has come through some tough decisions about 'right-sizing' the airport.
Many of our staff members are multi-skilled and cross-trained; and we try to focus on new niches that show promise for long-term sustainable revenue-corporate jet and military markets, for example."
To combat high operating costs, Wright
said the airport also looks for non-traditional ways to make money: some of the land has been sold; local loggers have purchased timber rights for forested airport property; there is a quarry on the premises; and, the airport offers winter RV storage.
said that 55 to 60 per cent of airport revenues still come from international fuel stops, with many of those stops made by military aircraft.
"We try to stay lean and focus on our strengths," said Wright
"We're not in the business of chasing rainbows.