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.