Tag Archives: Montréal Airports

A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport {Updated – May 2014}

Recent news is that the unelected government agency responsible for Montreal’s airports will seek to demolish the iconic main terminal of Mirabel International Airport, effectively shutting the door on ever using it again. The terminal has been abandoned, but maintained, since passenger flights ceased using the airport in 2004, and apparently this costs somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million annually.

I’m of the mind this is a colossal mistake and I’ve modified a previously published article to point out why. Enjoy.

1. We still need it.

Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it.

I’m looking at this with a long-term perspective. Traffic congestion around Trudeau airport is bad as it is and without major changes to local transport infrastructure will only get worse. There’s no room to build additional runways or terminals and, because the airport is surrounded by residential housing, the airport has a curfew limiting its hours of operation. It’s more-or-less at capacity.

And at a certain point in our city’s future, the land the airport currently occupies will be more valuable as residential housing than as an airport. Demand for on-island residential property will increase with the cost of oil, and all the factors that once made Trudeau airport’s location ideal for air travel will, in the future, make it an ideal place to own a house.

Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

When considering what to do with Mirabel, we should be thinking about our future needs.

2. It’s becoming more accessible.

The lack of access that lead to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board.

Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) has been completed, and it intersects Highway 15 near Mirabel. There are many more international flights available from Montreal than from Ottawa and this is a market a resurrected Mirabel could have access to.

The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 southern bypass of the Island of Montreal. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the entire metropolitan region. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, the government of Ontario is pressing ahead with the development of a new high-speed rail system connecting Toronto with London.

I’m convinced this is precisely how high speed rail will be (re)introduced to Canada – the provinces will get the ball rolling on specific, tactical, routes which will ideally blossom into a federal system. So why not do the same here?

A bullet train running between Downtown Montreal and Mirabel could lead to the creation of a high speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. A high speed train travelling at 320km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about thirty minutes. From Gare Centrale to Mirabel, the trip could be done in less than half that time.

Imagine a future Montreal in which international travel was as close to you as the nearest Métro station and didn’t require finding parking or calling a cab?

Imagine a future in which Mirabel didn’t just serve Metropolitan Montreal better, but the National Capital Region as well?

3. Competing with Pearson

Competition is economically healthy, so why not develop an airport that can compete with Toronto’s Pearson? Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable. Mirabel is 600km (give or take) closer to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and a number of important cities on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. I think we could use some competition in terms of which city is the true eastern gateway to the country, and I’d honestly like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail.

Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problems already identified first and foremost. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger program to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate a multitude of key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of socio-political malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.

A few things every Montrealer ought to know about Mirabel International Airport

So I’ve been having a lot of discussions about Mirabel over the last few weeks, thought I’d share some ideas.

1. We still need it. Montréal is a major international tourism destination in addition to being a key port of entry for immigrants and refugees. Our city is growing as is interest in our city, this is undeniable. As we stimulate our development and continue on our path to becoming a truly global city, we will require an airport that can handle a steadily increasing number of passengers. Such an airport will grow, by necessity, to serve a steadily increasing population base and will stimulate industrial development around it. It is for these reasons primarily that Montréal must shift its focus away from Trudeau and back towards Mirabel. Trudeau is at capacity, Mirabel is only one-sixth of its planned size. What else is there to do? Moreover, it would be advantageous to re-purpose Trudeau to handle cargo flights and aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, given the existing concentration of industry and infrastructure adjacent to the airport. Mirabel, by contrast, is located in a rural area with plenty of room to grow. Built away from the city, Mirabel can operate twenty-four hours a day and a purpose-built infrastructure can be implemented so as to make access to the airport efficient and effective across the metropolitan region. Similar infrastructure redevelopment in Dorval is proving exceptionally difficult to implement.

2. The lack of access that led to Mirabel’s demise is either currently being implemented, in use, or otherwise still on the drawing board. Highway 50 from the National Capital Region (population 1.4 million) is about to be completed, I believe, as far as the intersection with Highway 15. The AMT runs trains between Montréal and Mirabel, on a track which can access the Deux-Montagnes Line (and by extension Gare Centrale), in addition to the Parc Intermodal Station. The train station at the airport has already been completed. We’re closer to realizing high-speed rail access to the airport than we realize – the problem is that we’re focusing on the wrong airport. Completing Highway 50 so that it connects with Highway 40 near Repentigny will allow a Northern bypass to mirror the now completed Highway 30 Southern bypass. And what better way to justify the construction of a new South Shore span than by simultaneously completing Highways 13 and 19? This way, the Montréal metropolitan region would be served by four East-West Highways intersected by a similar number of North-South Highways. A ring-road would be created, and Mirabel would finally be able to adequately serve the metro region, providing the catalyst and focal point for new highway development. And that’s just the highways. While the Fed claims high-speed rail is an expensive dream, there’s no denying the very real demand within our own metropolitan region – so let us lead the development by starting on a smaller scale. A bullet train running between the Downtown of Montréal and Mirabel will lead to the creation of a high-speed rail link between Mirabel and Ottawa. Then it will be expanded from Mirabel to Québec City. A train travelling at 120km/hour could run the distance between Ottawa and Mirabel in about an hour. At a slightly higher speed the trip from Mirabel to Downtown Montréal could be made in as little as fifteen minutes. All of this would improve transit and transport throughout the region, and expand our airport market to a considerably larger population, perhaps more than five million people across three borders. Let’s pay for it now so that we may profit from it tomorrow.

3. Low jet-fuel prices and longer-range aircraft made stopping at Mirabel unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s and gave rise to Pearson Int’l Airport in Toronto as chief Canadian gateway due to the rise of Toronto’s economic prominence and rapid population growth. Today, fuel prices are high and unstable; though aircraft have grown in size considerably, so Mirabel may once again be in position to wrestle away the title of Eastern Gateway from Toronto. This is the kind of economic competition our State requires, and perhaps Toronto may be better off re-focusing it’s efforts on trans-hemispheric travel. Who knows? I’d just like to see what would happen if we pushed ahead with Mirabel to take business away from Pearson. It’s what capitalism is all about right? Better public transit access to strategically situated airports able to adapt to new technologies will define the gateways of tomorrow, and for this reason Mirabel is superior to Pearson in many respects. Let’s see what the free market has to say about it. Again, Pearson, though large, is nearing capacity and constrained from large-scale growth by what has already grown up beside it. And we can’t grow unless we have the infrastructure to allow for growth. So whereas the citizens of Toronto may one day have to plan an entirely new airport even further away from the city centre, all we have to do re-connect our airport to our metropolitan ‘circulatory system’. The advantage will soon be ours.

4. Mirabel wasn’t designed to fail – we let it fail. Fixing it is still a possibility, but we need to act quickly so we can save what’s already been built. We don’t want to have to start from scratch at some point in the future because we lacked foresight today – that’s criminally negligent economic policy. We spent a lot of money in the past and haven’t seen a decent return on our investment. So, invest anew – but invest in fixing the problem, once and for all. Whatever the initial cost, it cannot compare to the potential return a fully operational Mirabel would provide in terms of direct revenue and indirect economic stimulus. There are no mistakes, just innovative solutions. If we were really smart, we’d recognize that planned regional transit and transport projects can be brought together under a larger plan to provide the access necessary to make Mirabel a viable solution to our airport problem. Ultimately, it’s all inter-related and could stimulate key sectors of our local economy.

We were once a daring and imaginative people, we had bold ideas and planned on a grand scale. Somewhere along the way we became convinced we were no longer capable of performing at the same level, and settled into a holding pattern of society-wide malaise. Today we are restless, and we are daring to ask how we came to be, and where our former power came from. Of late, it seems that we’ve regained our swagger, our attitude. So let us push those in power to dream big once more, and push for the long-term, multi-generational city-building we were once so good at. We have it in our blood, but our pride is still damaged. Let us regain our spirit by turning our past failures into tomorrow’s successes.

Let’s make this an election issue No. 1 – A Strategic Airports Plan

Mirabel's opening-day open house - The Future Was Then

I’ll start with the tl/dr (too long, didn’t read). If I were elected Mayor, I’d propose the following:

A) Rationalize our three airport system by returning Mirabel to its originally intended hub/gateway role by re-routing all international flights to Mirabel away from Trudeau International.

B) Finance the completion of Highways 13, 19 and 50 in addition to the high-speed rail link intended to connect the airport with Central Station. I would further propose a partnership with the provincial & federal governments to extend Highway 50 to Gatineau/Ottawa in the West and through to Berthierville (connecting to Highway 40 and then onto Québec City) in the East, further intersecting with Highway 25.

C) Extend Métro service to both Trudeau and St-Hubert airports (and, by extension, get around the current AMT/ADM squabble re: commuter train access at Trudeau).

D) Re-organize Trudeau into a domestic/regional airport with a stronger emphasis on cargo flights (since Trudeau is better served by existing highways and is adjacent to the city’s principle rail yard) in addition to taking on some of St-Hubert’s general aviation load. St-Hubert would be given a new role as a ‘city-link’ STOLport, similar to Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport.

E) Build the once-proposed Aerospace University (I’d make it a joint venture between an English and French university) at Trudeau.

If the citizens were to authorize the completion of these projects, Montréal would doubtless re-take the position as Canada’s primary gateway, and in time would likely win a considerable amount of business in air travel back to the city and metropolitan region. It would also solidify our position as an aviation leader, both nationally and internationally.

Mirabel's vacant main concourse - not the work of the author.

Here’s a little trivia about Montréal’s relationship with civil aviation;

1. As far as the laws and governance of international civil aviation is concerned, Montr̩al is the world capital, featuring not only the International Air Transport Association (IATA, headquartered at the Tour de la Bourse) but the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO Рa UN body) as well. These two organizations form the utmost authority regarding civil aviation in the entire world, and as you can imagine, their consolidated political power is exceptional to say the very least.

2. Montréal boasts a total of three airports, two of which are ‘international airports’ – meaning they are designed to accommodate the largest (and longest-range) aircraft and the largest passenger or cargo loads. The third, St-Hubert Airport, is the busiest general-aviation airport in all of Canada. It is also partially a military base and the home of the Canadian Space Agency.

3. Montréal’s Mirabel International Airport was once Canada’s international hub (for the latter part of the 1970s until the late 1980s), meaning the the vast majority of international flights were departing and arriving at Mirabel (and thus, Mirabel was Canada’s gateway to the world and most immigrants/refugees during that era passed through there). When the land was originally purchased, it was several times larger than the entire area of Manhattan Island. It is still amongst the world’s largest airports in terms of total surface area, as the airport was supposed to be expanded over twenty years into a massive facility handling 50 million people per year. Even though it is no longer used, Mirabel is still exceptionally modern, still fully functional, and still capable of massive expansion.

4. Montréal is Canada’s aviation industry capital. Bombardier, arguably the world’s third largest civil aircraft manufacturer, is based here and has developed extensive manufacturing and maintenance facilities. Pratt & Whitney Canada, one of the world’s largest engine manufacturers is also located in the Montréal region, as is Bell Helicopter. Add to the list CAE, the world’s premier designer and manufacturer of flight simulators, and the myriad other enterprises and industries building aircraft components, electronics, landing gear etc.

There’s a reason why ICAO and IATA are based here.

What was planned and what was completed - the full project was designed to handle 50 million people per year.

But as we all know, our failures with regards to aviation are still quite significant, and there’s a considerable amount of room for improvement. And one of the principle causes of our failures with regards to local air travel is our over-dependence on federal and provincial assistance for large-scale infrastructure projects. There must be centralized planning emanating from City Hall. Furthermore, the City needs to consider financing the missing pieces of our only partially completed strategic airports plan.

To begin with, the City must begin planning for a return to Mirabel Airport. It is unthinkable that we should allow Mirabel to be destroyed or otherwise converted away from being an international airport of the highest calibre. Let us say that it has been held in storage; we require Mirabel because the other two airports in our system are presently over-capacity while Mirabel sits an empty shell of its former self. Rationalizing the airports and instituting a more efficient division of labour goes hand-in-hand with ensuring the airports are far better connected to our public-transit system in addition to the regional highway infrastructure.

Trudeau is currently at capacity and has no hope of being expanded beyond its current capacity of 20 million passengers per year (ironically, what Mirabel was initially designed to handle). However, it can’t reach that volume without a major improvement to the local highway, train and subway systems – all the more reason to shift some of that bulk back to Mirabel and expand highways and trains into the undeveloped portions of the metropolitan area, as opposed to trying to build through the already high-density of the Island. Limiting Trudeau to domestic/regional flights will be far more in-line with the ADM’s desire that Trudeau be a “9-5” airport, while the scarcely populated region around Mirabel could operate twenty-four hours per day. Furthermore, it is ultimately negligent for a city to route high-capacity jumbo-jets over densely populated urban areas.

Pretty self-explanatory - why not finish the project?

In a similar vein, the over-capacity St-Hubert airport should transfer some of its general-aviation operations to Trudeau, which may be under-capacity after international flights are re-routed. STOL (short take-off & landing) aircraft could make excellent use of St-Hubert for ‘city-link’ business flights, like those offered by Porter Airlines. Extending the Métro as far as St-Hubert would allow those passengers a direct link right into the heart of the City, an invaluable asset (and far more efficient than waiting for the ferry as is the case in Toronto.

My last note is this. After reading this article, consider its proposals and ask yourself “can we afford not to do this, can we afford the status quo?”

I certainly don’t believe we can pass up the opportunity to re-invigorate our airports system and associated aerospace industry. A massive investment in air transport for this city, in addition to the secondary improvements to local traffic and transit infrastructure which would also be required would propel Montréal into a new position as a new national gateway. We’d be able to compete with Toronto directly, and could potentially solidify our position by reducing airport fees and increasing the ease by which Montréalers can travel. By extending highways from Mirabel to Montréal, Ottawa and Québec City, Mirabel could potentially offer its services to more than 6 million people living in the region.

Mirabel's deserted entrance - not the work of the author.

And we’d finally reverse a great injustice. Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney deeded land secured by the Trudeau Administration for the construction of Mirabel back to the original owners as they felt threatened by Mirabel’s potential power. Under the guise of correcting what was in their minds a historical injustice, these two leaders have sought to shift the focus away from Montréal. If we don’t act quickly, we may lose Mirabel in its entirety. The proposals for what to do with it have included everything from outright demolition to conversion into some kind of water themed bio-diversity amusement park.

In my eyes, that would be the greatest injustice to this once proud city.