CANADA

Mirabel gets a reprieve

MARCUS GEE December 15 1986
CANADA

Mirabel gets a reprieve

MARCUS GEE December 15 1986

Mirabel gets a reprieve

CANADA

For years Canadians—politicians, business leaders and air travellers—have debated the future of Montreal’s two international airports, Mirabel and Dorval. Some of them claimed that the federal government should shut down the underused and money-losing Mirabel facility, 55 km north of the city, and channel all flights to the older, more profitable Dorval, just 20 km from downtown. Others said that closing Mirabel after only 11 years of operation would be an economic disaster, and they recommended making the $500-million facility the area’s main airport. The issue was so contentious that a federally appointed board that spent 14 months studying it emerged almost evenly divided-five members favored Mirabel, four supported Dorval.

Last week Ottawa finally announced its verdict: both airports will stay open under a new, joint administration. Mirabel will continue to handle most international traffic, while Dorval will keep domestic flights. But the decision caused dismay among many local officials, who said that the transport ministry had not done much better than the board. Ottawa, said Dorval supporter Manon Vennat, president of the Montreal Board of Trade, had “put off the real solution for another day. International airlines just don’t want to fly here. Montreal is the big loser.”

For the much-criticized Mirabel, the decision was a welcome reprieve. Last year the sprawling airport handled only 1.7 million passengers, while losing $26.2 million. In sharp contrast, Dorval had 5.8 million passengers and made a profit of $9.1 million. André Bissonnette, federal minister of state for transport, said that the previous Liberal government made a mistake when it built Mirabel. But closing either airport, he said, would cost $278 million to $409 million and eliminate more than 700 jobs.

Instead, Ottawa will contribute up to $39 million toward completing Autoroute 13, a highway that will link the two facilities and cut travelling time for connecting passengers to 25 minutes from 35. As well, a free shuttlebus service will be established between the two airports. But that will not help travellers making the 45-minute trip between Mirabel and downtown Montreal. The one-way taxi fare: $50.

BRUCE WALLACE

-MARCUS GEE with BRUCE WALLACE in Montreal