Latlng: (45.670186, -74.032413)

No Fly Zone

Discovered by KnightHawk
Created Dec 14 2018
Recent status Demolished
Category Commercial
City Mirabel, Quebec
Location # 15729

[i]Montréal–Mirabel International Airport[/i] ([b]CYMX[/b]), is a cargo and former international passenger airport located in Mirabel, Quebec. It lies some 39 km northwest of Montreal. Even from its opening on Oct. 4, 1975 & until it closed its doors 29 years later to passenger traffic on October 31, 2004, Mirabel was a huge white elephant for the city of Montreal.

Today, the airport is use by cargo companies such as [b]FedEx[/b], [b]Bombardier[/b] [b]Aerospace[/b], [b]MEDEVAC[/b], and [b]Hélibellule[/b]. The apron, now known as [i]Circuit ICAR[/i], has hosted races since 2007, including the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

In August 2008, the [i]Agence Métropolitaine de Transport[/i] ([b]ADM[/b]) said it would extend its commuter rail service to the airport if passenger traffic were to return. The closest station, Deux Montagnes, is a mere 12 km from the airport.

In 2006,[i] I-Parks Creative[/i] made plans had plans to revitalize the airport and nearby hotel by creating a theme-park on the grounds,& turning the defunct Chateau Airport hotel in a themed property, along the lines of Hotel Fantasyland in Alberta’s West Edmonton Mall. However, in July 2010, the ADM confirmed that I-Parks Creative ‘AeroDream’ project was dead, & cancelled the project. To date, there are no plans for any alternative development at the site.

On September 16, 2013, history was made for Canadian aviation when the Bombardier [i]CS100[/i] took off on its inaugural flight from Mirabel. Final assembly of the CSeries aircraft takes place at the Mirabel facility.

Mirabel & Toronto’s [b]Lester B. Pearson International[/b] [b]Airport (CYYZ) [/b]are the only Canadian airports with sufficient right-of-way that can be expanded to accommodate [b]50 million[/b] passengers per year. However, a lack of passenger traffic from the outset doomed Mirabel to never expanding beyond Phase 1. It is one of only two non-capital airports with fewer than 200,000 passengers a year to be part of the National Airports System.

Originally the airport was intended to replace Montreal’s other airport, [i]Montréal Dorval[/i] (a.k.a. [i]P.E. Trudeau[/i]) Airport as the eastern air gateway to Canada. From 1975 to 1997, all international flights to and from Montreal (except for US flights), were [u]required[/u] to use Mirabel. This created a problem, though. Due to Mirabel's distant location, the lack of adequate transport links to the city, & domestic flights flying out of Dorval, Mirabel quickly became unpopular with travellers and airlines alike. As a result, passenger levels never approached anticipated levels.

When the decision was made to consolidate Montreal's passenger traffic at one airport, Dorval was chosen, and Mirabel was relegated to the role of a cargo airport. Mirabel was the largest airport in the world by surface area with a planned sprawl of 39,660 hectares (98,000 acres). 

In the 1960s, Montreal experienced a tremendous economic boom. Massive construction projects, including the Montreal Metro and the Expo 67 infrastructure, brought the city international status. More and more visitors were arriving to the city. At the time, however, the federal government mandated that Montreal was to be their only Canadian destination. That resulted in 15–20% annual growth in passenger traffic at Dorval. Optimistic about the city's future and its continuing ability to attract more and more visitors, government officials decided to build a new airport that would be more than able to absorb increased passenger traffic well into the 21st century.[i] Witness the birth of[/i] [b]Mirabel[/b].

Initially, the airport encompassed a mere 6,880 hectares (17,000 acres). What was eventually built (plus expansion room), amounted to a mere 19% of the airport’s total area. The federal government planned to use the excess land as a noise buffer and as an industrial development zone. However, the planned development never got airborne.

A high-speed passenger rail system known as ‘[b]TRRAMM’[/b] ([i]Transport Rapide Régional Aéroportuaire Montréal–Mirabel[/i]) was planned for a later date. The TRRAMM system, which was designed to service other parts of the Montreal region, never got off the drawing board. This was mainly due to funding issues. Although TRRAMM was considered to be highly ambitious, it would also have been exorbitantly expensive to build. Even with all 3 levels of government involved, the required cash flow just didn’t materialise. As a result, Mirabel was forced to cope with an inadequate road system, non-existent rail transit, & express buses.

Mirabel opened its doors in time for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. Due to the timing, it was decided to transfer flights to Mirabel in two stages. International flights would be transferred immediately, while domestic and US flights would continue to use Dorval until 1982.

The federal government predicted that Dorval would be completely saturated by 1985, & this reasoning was used to partially justify Mirabel’s construction. They also projected that some 20 [i]million[/i] passengers would be passing through Montreal's airports annually, with [i]17 million[/i] of those going through Mirabel. There was a problem, though. Because Dorval (domestic/US flights) & Mirabel (international flights were operating simultaneously, Montreal was far less attractive to international airlines. For instance, a European passenger who wanted to travel to another destination in Canada or fly to the United States had to take an hour-long bus ride from Mirabel to Dorval. International carriers responded by shifting their routes to Toronto Pearson. In addition, Air Canada wanted to keep flying into Dorval because of its proximity with aviation workshops & the already existing connections at Pearson Airport.

Mirabel never managed to exceed [i]3 million[/i] passengers per year. It soon became apparent that Montreal did not need a second airport. To ensure Mirabel's survival, all international flights for Montreal were banned from Dorval from 1975 to 1997. After the government announced plans to close Dorval, the public responded, expressing a strong desire to keep the airport open. After all, Dorval was only 20 minutes from the city centre & even under ideal conditions, it took at least 50 minutes to get to Mirabel. Added to this was the fact that passengers facing connections from domestic flights to international ones had to endure long bus or taxi rides just to make their flight.

Many airlines opted to bypass Montreal altogether by landing in Toronto with its better domestic and US connections. Dorval fell from having the most passenger traffic to 4th place. It was slow to get international flights back after the ban ended in 1997. Air Transat stayed at Mirabel until the very end, operating the last commercial flight out of the doomed airport on October 31, 2004.

Over time, the decrease in passenger traffic took a toll on airport-dependent businesses. Probably the most notable was the 354-room Chateau Aeroport-Mirabel hotel. The hotel itself still stands, along with the aerial walk-way which connected the hotel to the airport. The hotel shut its doors in 2002 after 25 years of operation.

Mirabel’s location was chosen not only because of its expansion room but also because the distance from the city would significantly reduce noise pollution in urban areas.

Aéroports de Montréal financed the expansion of Mirabel at a cost of $716 million, with no government grants. The expansion took place from 2000 – 2005, giving the airport the ability to serve 20 million passengers a year. In the 1970s, the federal government projected that 20 million passengers would be passing through Montreal's airports annually by 1985, with 17 million of those going through Mirabel.

In its final years, Mirabel was the setting of several movies, TV series, and commercials. This was made possible by the fact that passenger traffic had slowed to almost nothing, & there were many empty spaces in the terminal. The movie [i]The Terminal[/i] features the mezzanine overlooking the immigration desks and the baggage carousels directly behind them, along with the tarmac and the main terminal entrance.

In a final blow to Mirabel in 2006, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the return of 4,450 ha of farmland expropriated to build Mirabel airport. He cited "correcting a historical injustice" as the reason. About 125 farmers, who rent their land from the federal government, were permitted to buy it back. Harper finished the work started by former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, who unlocked a major parcel of expropriated land during his first term in office in 1985.

On May 1, 2014, Aéroports de Montréal confirmed that Mirabel's terminal building would be demolished, citing high maintenance costs as well as the facilities being “unfit for commercial aviation needs and lacking any economic viability”. Several reports suggested that it would simply be less expensive to rebuild a new terminal if passenger service ever returned to Mirabel. Demolition costs were estimated up to $15 million and to take approximately one year to complete. Demolition began in mid-November 2014.

Mirabel was designed to grow to six runways and six terminal buildings, & was slated to be completed by 2025. However, the airport never got beyond the first phase of construction & only 2 runways were built. A TRAMM rail station was built in the basement, but never saw service as the rail line never made it out to the airport.

One rather interesting feature of Mirabel was how passengers boarded their flights. After travelling the short distance from curb to gate, passengers were shuttled to their aircraft in large, high-wheeled Passenger Transfer Vehicles (PTVs), rather than walking through air bridges or jet ways. The PTVs, similar to those at Washington Dulles International Airport, ran from the terminal to the aircraft parking spot on the ramp. Each of the PTVs cost approximately $40K. A few jet ways were constructed to eventually make connections between flights easier. The jet ways were housed in a secondary, smaller concourse called the [i]Aeroquay[/i]. It was accessible via an underground tunnel and later connected directly to the main concourse.

Today all that remains are part of an elevated walkway that connected the Chateau Aeroport-Mirabel to where the parking garage and terminal once stood & the once-proud PTVs hulking in a group at one end of the airport property. 

The hotel is still there, but faces an uncertain future. (See Location ^14940^) For now, it sits waiting, slowly decaying. Neither the hotel nor the PTVs are accessible, but I hope to get permission to go in and explore the hotel as it looks like it is basically intact, at least on the ground floor. There are cameras and roving security patrols around the hotel, as it sits adjacent to the crown lands from which Mirabel once welcomed the world.

Latlng: (45.670186, -74.032413)


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avatar of Motleykiwi
Motleykiwi Great write up.
Dec 15 2018