Flight plan

My flight plan....

This blog is to inspire and motivate those pining for the skies. I will also virtually open the flight deck door and allow a peek behind the scenes.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

A White Elephant - Montreal's Mirabel

Here's another question from enRoute's Ask Doug but didn't make it to print:

(He is a blog follower living Oshawa, Ontario)

Heya Doug - avid reader of your blog. I've recently been back to Mirabel airport (Montreal) for a freight delivery and was sad to see it falling into such a bad state of disrepair. Just wondering if perhaps you had any stories to share about Mirabel - I'm sure that you flew into it in years passed when it was an operational passenger airport and perhaps readers who are not aware of it's existence (or the interesting story of how it's become to be virtually abandoned from a passenger airport point of view) would find it interesting reading. On YouTube and various websites there is lots of interesting content (some of it recent) showing the sad state the airport is in. Though it might make for an interesting post.

For the longest time, Air Canada did not carry Mirabel in our aerodrome charts, not even for an alternate. But I see the charts are back. My June charts had runway 11-29 closed, but I noticed my December charts has the runway back open. Runway 06-24 (the same orientation as Montreal's Dorval -sorry Montreal's Pierre Eliot Trudeau) is 12,000 "hardly used" feet long. Not only is the airport deemed a "white elephant" but it's like a cat with nine lives. Here's Wikipedia's definition of a white elephant: A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth. I can't say it any better.

It's stated on the taxi chart, "Mirabel airport is intended for scheduled cargo and general aviation." I see the odd cargo plane on the ramp when we over-fly the airport. Bombardier moved some of their operations to CYMX as well.

I heard they may be turning part of the airport into an amusement park called AERODREAM. I don't know how far along this rumour is, but three years ago it seemed to have credibility.

Fact 1. The movie, Terminal, starring Tom Hanks used Mirabel as the film set.

Fact II. The Montreal Dorval VOR (YUL) is collocated near CYMX (Mirabel). The VOR YMX is to the northwest of CYMX.

Fact III. When it was built, it was the largest airport as far as surface area envisioned.

Fact IV. As far as longest "Canadian domestic" crew bus drives it took the cake. About 40-50 minutes from Dorval to Mirabel. Edmonton downtown now takes first prize as far as longest drives with Deer Lake, Nfld taking the longest in winter conditions. Halifax, N.S is third. I think the land to both YEG (Edmonton) and YHZ (Halifax) were owned by politicians and they did some serious convincing to locals. I'm certain some will say YHZ was chosen because it was deemed fog free. That's probably what the politician who owned the land claimed.

The last time I flew to CYMX was when I did touch and gos getting checked-out in the Bae 146 for Air Atlantic some 20 years ago. As well, I flew out of there as a passenger to CDG to start my initial training on Air France's A340 simulator some 14 years ago.


Ian said...

Prestwick - my old stomping ground/flying ground nearly became the UK's equivalent of Mirabel.

For many years, if operating long haul to the New World, Prestwick was it, until in the 80s there was challenge with I believe an Air 2000 operation leaving Glasgow, flying 10 minutes, setting down in Prestwick, and then out to Florida, making a mockery of the rules.

Since then, Prestwick has reinvented itself as a major freight port and low-cost base, principally for Ryanair, and has passenger numbers in the 7 digits, a far cry from the meagre 250,000 of the early 1980s.

Mirabel always looked to me to be very futuristic - but its remote location was seemingly not up to par, given the surface infrastructure or lack of it.

Cheers, Ian

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. Yes, they had big plans for Mirabel i.e parallel runways, high speed transit to/from Montreal, bigger Terminals, but there was a shift of interest from Montreal to Toronto. I guess the adage,"build and they will come" did not stick.

It's a shame AC does not fly to Glasgow all year round as well as Dublin.

I guess you are back home wondering why you didn't stay longer in the sunny south?

Mark said...

I did a lot of research on Mirabel airport during my studies at John Abbott College. The whole creation of the airport (which I believe was supposed to accommodate Montreal and eventually Ottawa travellers), expropriation of local's land, and then the subsequent closure to most air traffic is very unfortunate. My (unscientific) analysis some 12 years ago showed that the average time to get to Mirabel for the average Montrealer was shorter than the same analysis for the average Torontonian getting to YYZ. I was personally a fan of Mirabel. It is sad to see any airport deteriorate like Mirabel. I’ll never forget the KLM flight I took out of there in 1994. I remember shortly after takeoff the plane reeking like cigarette smoke as the last 11 rows all lit up. Happy those days are over of smoking being allowed on some flights (what a fire hazard). Ultimately, the Quebec and Federal Gov'ts didn't provide the proper transit to Mirabel that it required. There was never the creation of a train or Metro line, and highway 10 (or 15, cant remember) was never extended north as originally planned. Mirabel was a failure (White Elephant) not because of the airport itself, but rather because the infrastructure around it was never completed to plan.

Another interesting note about Mirabel.... parts of the movie Highlander were filmed there. I think many other movies have been also as it is probably dirt cheap to film for Hollywood.

Doug, hope you are doing well and Happy New Year. I hit up a few different airports over the holidays to add to my list. MVD Montevideo which had just opened a brand new terminal (just a few weeks old) is beautiful. The lines were pretty bad though. It is modern and was pleasant to meander around. SCL Santiago was alright, but nothing overly exciting. Once again, the lines were pretty bad, but that is indicative of South American airports. MIA was freezing cold as it was 4 degrees outside when we were there last Friday for a layover and I guess they decided not to turn on the heat. Never thought I would be cold in Miami!

Upon return to YYZ, it was nice to be home, excluding the weather, and the delayed baggage.... oh well, it was delivered unharmed to our home 24 hrs later.

2½ weeks away and the best part of the whole trip was reading my Airways mags on the beach and the flights of course.... priceless.

Chat later.


From the Flight Deck said...

Mark. Glad it all worked out in South America. When I Googled Mirabel there were many maps depicting future plans i.e.the highspeed rail, the road extension to YOW and parallel runways.
I guess it will go down as another Avro Arrow? With all this cold weather people will be querying global warming. :)

Thanks for the in-depth post.

We still have to go for that coffee.


Mark said...

Hey Doug,

Yes, I think during these cold snaps that we start asking more questions about global warming. I believe in everyone doing their part to preserve the environment, but I also think Canada could do with a few extra degrees of warmth....lol!!!

Regarding Mirabel, the governments had all these big plans, but never executed against them. Oh well, I guess this has come at the benefit of YUL where all the money has gone.

From the Flight Deck said...

Mark. YUL has certainly got "hustle and bustle." The terminal is busy but the airport itself seems to be working rather well. Doug