"Airport of Tomorrow" Ran Out Of Tomorrows
What happens if you build an out-of-the-way new airport, and
don't close the convenient old airport? Montreal's Mirabel Airport
might be an illustration.
Constructed in the Trudeaupian interlude between Expo '67 and
the '76 Olympics, Mirabel came with all modern conveniences and,
unlike urban Dorval, plenty of room for expansion. It was the most
ambitious airport plan in the world, and the largest area (since
surpassed by Saudi Arabia's King Fahd airport).
But initial optimism evaporated rapidly, as the airlines bolted
back to Dorval (now named, ironically, for PM Pierre Elliot
Trudeau, one of the midwives of Mirabel). Even Dorval never saw its
traffic grow as forecast in the rosy 70s, and Mirabel barely limped
along, losing millions.
The last Air Transat charter out of Mirabel left in 2004, and
the passenger terminal's been silent ever since. Now it may gain a
new lease on life -- as an aquatic theme park.
A European consortium, I-Parks-Oger, has taken an extendible
25-year lease on the terminal building for a project they call
AeroDream, (French, RevePort), which they call an "indoor escape
destination". Their year-round tropical resort opens in 2007.
The park comprises existing buildings plus several new geodesic
domes, totaling 100,000 square meters under cover. The domes form
spherical 3-D display screens, transporting visitors to exotic,
The key draw, perhaps, is an indoor beach, "creating a tropical
atmosphere and an invitation to a siesta." Plans include a giant
aquarium where visitors move through acrylic tunnels inside the
tanks; a fitness center; multiple cinemas; and the usual ways to
part tourists from money: shops, arcades, bars and restaurants,
most featuring an aquatic theme.
In 1975, the terminal was state of the art, and unique in that
passengers could walk as little as 100 feet, and even from the
farthest corner of the parking lot less than 200 yards, from
parking to airplane seat. It was "the Airport of 2000!" Ambitious
plans included six jet runways, a STOL runway, and six
The airport was supposed to cost a half-billion Canadian
dollars; in the end it went for the full billion, even though only
two runways and one terminal were built.
But the eclipse of Montreal as a business center relative to
Toronto, longer-ranged aircraft that could bypass Montreal,
and the absence of reasonable ground transportation, were all nails
in Mirabel's coffin.
Mirabel continues as a cargo terminal, but is closed to GA. One
runway was closed in 2005 leaving only 06-24 open.
According to the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association, the
underutilized tower controllers welcome instrument approaches and
touch-and-goes, but no full-stop landings. (There is no airside
access to the ground side, anyway).
Perhaps l'elephant blanc will succeed in its new role. Gilles
Assouline, president of I-Parks-Oger, told the trade magazine
Amusement Business, "It's the first time an airport has been
transformed into a theme park."
Guess he hasn't been to the 'Fantasyland' of Oshkosh (or 'Tomorrowland' in New Mexico). But if
there's a way to integrate GA into his latest venture, he could
have a fantastic fly-in destination.