If the Vancouver International Airport has enough of a budget to break ground on a $9.1-billion expansion project, why is it still charging travellers an airport improvement fee?

Questions were raised by critics following the official start of the 20-year improvement plan Thursday, which includes an indoor "forest," extended runways and a sustainable parkade.

YVR said about a third of the massive bill for the upgrade will be paid for by money collected from airlines. Part of the funds also come from passengers themselves, who pay $5 to travel within the province and $20 to fly anywhere else.

Money also comes from revenue sources such as kiosks, food and beverage and duty free.

And the airport has no plans to lower the fees for travellers, Vancouver Airport Authority CEO Craig Richmond said Thursday. He said the fee is the lowest in Canada, and that while it will be looked at over time, there will be no changes in the near future.

YVR did reduce the amount airlines are charged, however.

"We reduced airline rates and charges 15 per cent a couple of years ago, and that goes out for the next several years," Richmond said.

"What we charge the airlines is flat and has been reduced and is amongst the lowest airline charges in North America."

While many would like to see the passenger fees reduced, some say travellers shouldn't have to pay fees at all.

Consumers' Association president Bruce Cran said the improvement fee system was initially supposed to be temporary when it was introduced in 1993, but has somehow stuck around.

"This was supposed to be a tax that was going to come off at some point… and here we are, decades later," Cran said in an interview with CTV News Friday.

He called the fee disappointing, and an imposition on residents of the Vancouver area: "It shouldn't be a tax or a burden mostly on the locals, and that's what it appears to me to be."

Because the airport helps connect Canada and the rest of the world, he feels the federal government should chip in on improvement projects and passengers should no longer be charged.

"It's just too much, and why wasn't there some sort of consultation on this?"

And if it would mean consumers save money, YVR should abandon plans for non-essentials, he said.

"We don't want all these things, the indoor forests, the aquariums everywhere. We want a utilitarian airport."

Tourists passing through the airport Friday had mixed reactions to the improvement plans.

"They don't need a forest, just the basic services. 10 bucks would be fine, $20 is too much," German tourist Thomas Kersten said.

"It would be good if there were improvements. It's been very, very slow coming through passport control. Really slow. And there are lots and lots of machines but nobody's using them," said U.K. resident Frances Wilson.

"$20 is not that much, is it?" Rainer Peters said.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's Allison Hurst