In Montreal, Consolidation

With overhaul of Trudeau complete, the focus is on increasing competition


MONTREAL — Aeroports de Montreal (ADM) is the corporation responsible for the management, operation, and development of Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (formerly Montreal-Dorval International Airport) and Montreal-Mirabel International Airport, under the terms of a 60-year lease signed with Transport Canada in 1992. After the initial 60-year term, ADM has two ten-year options to extend the agreement. The corporation employs some 600 people at both airports and its head office. The airport system here has had some unique challenges — primarily one of overcapacity brought about by questionable projections by the federal government. Yet today, the management team is finding some unique solutions, while continually battling the rent relief issue facing all major Canadian systems.

The largest city in the province of Quebec and Canada’s second largest city behind Toronto, Greater Montreal is home to some three million people as well as two airports. Trudeau International is seeing passenger growth which James Cherry, president and CEO of Aeroports de Montreal, calls “explosive;” the other, Mirabel International, is about to welcome a new, and perhaps unorthodox, tenant — a theme park. Both developments can be partly attributed to the consolidation of passenger flights to a single facility in 2004 — a decision that Cherry calls “emotional” for some, “but the absolute right decision and I think in the long run it will prove to be the right way to go.”

Montreal’s Dual Airport History
Trudeau began operations in the early 1940s and was handling more than one million passengers by the mid-1950s. By the 1970s, Montreal was experiencing an economic boom and, according to officials, Trudeau wasn’t capable of accommodating the growth so a new airport, Mirabel, was constructed. However, at Mirabel’s peak, only three million passengers per year used the facility, as opposed to the 60 million that was forecasted.
“By 1982 it became evident that the traffic growth assumptions would not materialize,” relates Normand Boivin, VP of airport operations at ADM. “So the Canadian government decided not to go ahead with subsequent phases of the Mirabel project.

“Montreal is too small of a city to have two airports compared to a New York or Los Angeles,” Boivin insists.

“Transport Canada at the time was going to move all of the traffic from Dorval to Mirabel and close down Dorval. It was impossible for us to make money or even make sense in having international traffic at Mirabel and domestic/transborder traffic at Trudeau. The connecting time from Mirabel was ridiculous. We were running two halves of an airport.”
According to Cherry, ADM made the decision to eliminate passenger traffic at Mirabel after much deliberation and thorough research. The last passenger flight at Mirabel was October 31, 2004.

Mirabel: still a center of commerce
The loss of commercial service is certainly not the end of Mirabel. It is currently used for cargo operations by some 20 companies (roughly 45 percent of Montreal’s cargo comes in on designated cargo flights at Mirabel, while 55 percent comes in the belly of passenger aircraft at Trudeau), and also has industrial development, including Bombardier’s F-18 maintenance facility. The airport sees some 30,000 to 35,000 aircraft movements annually.

In December 2006, ADM signed an agreement with I.Parks-Oger International Consortium, made up of I.Parks Creative Industries, a French firm founded by Assouline and Jacques Gautherie, and Oger International, a construction engineering firm, to transform the former Mirabel passenger terminal into a theme park called AeroDream.

In order to accomplish this, ADM had to receive permission from Transport Canada to modify the land use policy, says Cherry. The airport will still accommodate cargo and general aviation traffic, but the terminal building will be isolated from the airfield.

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