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Link between downtown Montreal and airport a pipe dream

Oct. 3, 2014, Montreal - Montrealers, it seems, will obtain a direct connection to Beijing before securing one between downtown and Trudeau airport.


October 3, 2014
By The Montreal Gazette

Leaning on a new study conducted by Secor-KPMG enumerating the economic benefits of Aéroports de Montréal, airport authority president James Cherry told a business luncheon audience Monday that Montreal’s air services have far outpaced the city’s economic performance in the last 10 years.

But he added that the oft-delayed, much talked about infrastructure link between downtown and the airport remains a major stumbling block that no comparable city in the world has to contend with.

Cherry conceded that extending the métro to the airport is not financially feasible, but reiterated his plea for the SkyTrain, a light overhead monorail project that would connect downtown to the Fairview Mall, with a spur forking off to the airport. The idea is to widen the basin of people who would benefit from the costly plan — $700 million at least — to include West Islanders, who do not have métro service.

But transit authorities have said they prefer other plans, including a parallel line to the CP line to Dorval. The issue has been a sore point for more than 12 years, with no resolution in sight.

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Media stories last year lacked nuance when they reported that Calgary’s airport traffic had surpassed Montreal’s, Cherry said.

“With 70 per cent of domestic passengers and only nine per cent international passengers, Calgary is essentially a regional airport. In contrast, Montreal is a truly international airport, with the highest proportion of international travellers in the country, some 38 per cent (62 per cent if we include passengers heading to the United States).”

“With regards to air service, and especially the number of direct destinations, Montreal has done very well. It is in second place with (131) destinations … including 75 international ones compared with 21 for Calgary.”

Direct international connections jumped to 75, with another four added this year, Istanbul, Panama, Tunis and Prague.

“Those who argue that Montreal-Trudeau is in decline are simply living on another planet,” said Cherry.

“Traffic at Montreal-Trudeau, which totalled 14 million passengers in 2013, has been growing almost continuously since 2004. Growth has averaged 4.6 per cent per year over this period, which is much higher than (Montreal’s) GDP growth.”

But there is one stubborn thorny issue; the long-standing attempt to secure a landing slot for a non-stop Montreal-Beijing flight at China’s capital airport still eludes ADM, and Air Canada.

“The problem is simple,” Cherry told reporters later. “There are no landing slots available at the Beijing airport.”

“It’s the most important market we don’t currently serve. But we’re optimistic we’ll get it done.”

To launch a commercially viable permanent connection, departure and arrival times must reasonably fit the schedules and preferences of travellers. But the only slots currently available in Beijing would have to leave Trudeau in the middle of the night and arrive in the capital also in pre-dawn hours.

Cherry said that he goes to China regularly to try to solve the issue, as he will again next month on a trade mission with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

Despite the unavailability of a landing slot under current conditions, Cherry said, aviation authorities could conceivably review operations at the airport in a way that could open one up.

The impasse may also be resolved when Beijing’s airport builds additional runways, but that is not expected for another three years.