Montreal Mirabel International Airport
History of Montreal Mirabel Airport
Throughout written history, few plans have loomed bolder and fallen harder than those of Canada’s Montréal-Mirabel International Airport. Until 1999, the facility, known colloquially as Mirabel, laid claim to the largest surface area ever set aside for an airport; however, the North American giant would see its initial popularity decline, eventually leading to its demise as a passenger destination.
The early history of Montréal-Mirabel International Airport, which is often shortened to Montreal International Airport, held its share of rough patches. After years of quibbling over the proper location for Mirabel, the government finally chose to build the airport in Mirabel, Quebec on a staggering 98,000 acres of land. The massive size of the zone met with outrage from local residents and business owners, and though the government stated plans to use the extra space for commercial development, no plans ever came to fruition. As a result, the facility built from 1970 to 1975 ultimately used just 19% of the total land area acquired for its construction. The airport played an important role in lessening the strain on the Canadian air travel system during the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in nearby Montréal, but little success came afterwards. The longer fuel range of modern jets erased the need for many to make stopovers at Mirabel before crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and the airport quickly declined in traffic. This development, coupled with the presence of a cheaper international airport closer to the city of Montréal (Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport), led Mirabel to be closed to commercial flights by 2004.
Today, the airport has many uses, both airborne and ground-based. The primary focus of the facility in contemporary times lies in the form of cargo flights, as over 95,000 metric tons of cargo moved through the airport in 2011. Though comprising a smaller function, general aviation occurs at Mirabel on a regular basis as well. Essential MEDEVAC (or medical evacuation) services are carried out in the facility, helping the wounded find a haven on friendly soil. Also of great importance is the airport’s use as a base of manufacturing by Bombardier Aerospace, the third-largest aircraft manufacturer in the world. Bombardier conducts the final assembly processes of the CRJ700, CRJ900, and CRJ1000 regional jets on site at Mirabel. In terms of potential for expansion, the sprawling size of Montréal-Mirabel International Airport’s grounds makes it one of only two Canadian airports with sufficient right-of-way to sustain traffic of 50 million passengers per year. This fact, of course, only makes one wonder about what could have been in Mirabel if not for gross mismanagement of the facility and those around it. Instead, the defunct (for passenger flights) facility continues to play various obscure roles in its region. Though the plan has since died, the airport was nearly turned into a water park; in addition, many movies, including “The Terminal,” were filmed inside of the airport’s cavernous, often empty terminal. Maybe the most notable ground-based current usage of the airport is as a racing circuit. Several racing series, including drag racing and NASCAR, run races at what is known as the Circuit ICAR, using Mirabel’s runways and grounds as racing surfaces.
The plan of Montréal-Mirabel International Airport, encompassing six terminals and six runways, made designers hard-pressed to find a bolder project, but nothing quite came together. With just two 12,000-foot runways and one unused passenger terminal, Mirabel has fallen to uses not envisioned by its creators. Perhaps, though, the recent promise of high-speed rail transportation to and from the airport will sway the government to re-evaluate their plans and realize those bold plans.