Montreal–Mirabel International Airport is a name that older (relatively speaking) pilots may remember as a busy hub for that great Canadian city’s air transportation sector. Today, it is still active but in a very different way. The airline passengers now are just a distant memory of an airport once a key hub in Canada’s national airspace system.

The birth of YMX

Originally called Montréal International Airport, this airfield resulted from an economic boom and increased air activity throughout Canada. Unfortunately, Montreal was often overlooked even as vacation travelers began to flock more than ever to Canada. As a result, the federal government required European airlines to make Montreal their only Canadian destination.

This tactic worked, and the city experienced a 15–20% annual growth in passenger traffic. The city’s only airport at the time was Dorval. Government leaders decided a reliever field would be prudent to help alleviate the increased passenger traffic and forecasted growth for years to come.

After negotiations between the government, local politicians, and business leaders, a site in Drummondville (about 62 miles (100 km) to the east of Montreal was selected, construction began, and the airport opened on October 4th, 1975.

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An Olympic-sized issue/Growing pains

Mirabel opened just in time to receive a flurry of visitors for the 1976 Olympic Games that Canada hosted. The province of Quebec featured several events, and YMK would take on the brunt of the international flights. At the same time, Dorval would handle domestic flights and those originating from the United States.

The significant number of visitors brought much attention to Mirabel for all the wrong reasons. A high-speed commuter rail line was discussed to connect the airport to downtown Montreal. Unfortunately, that never materialized, so visitors trying to get to the center of town often found themselves over an hour in transit. The backlash was well-publicized, and the airport got the brunt of the negative headlines.

As the 1970s ended, Canadian officials found themselves with two underserved airports, thanks to long-range international and intercontinental flights that no longer required fuel stops in Montreal on their way to Toronto or points west. This reduced traffic flow to airports and airport authorities planned ways to deal with these traffic drops.

At the same time, Dorval continued only to serve domestic flights. This required international passengers who connected via Mirabel to take an hour-long bus ride to Dorval and vice-versa. This added travel time was unpopular and generated many complaints from frustrated passengers.

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YMK’s passenger days fade away

Montreal’s two-airport system alienated passengers and airlines, with both groups gradually opting to skip Montreal in favor of direct flights to Toronto. This shift took its toll, and by 1991, Mirabel and Dorval were handling only 8 million passengers and 112,000 tons of cargo annually. On the other hand, Toronto was handling 18.5 million passengers and 312,000 tons of cargo. Montreal’s leaders realized the era of two airports was over.

The question was which airport would be sacrificed to revitalize the other? The lack of high-speed rail made Mirabel a nightmare for travelers coming or going to the city center. Eventually, Dorval was chosen to remain as the lone airport for passenger flights, and the last passenger trip departed Mirabel on October 31, 2004.

The C$716 million expansion of Dorval from 2000 to 2005 gave it the ability to serve 20 million passengers a year, and today, Montréal–Mirabel International Airport is used almost exclusively for cargo flights. Some charter flights are occasionally operated, and Bombardier Aerospace houses a factory at Mirabel. Long gone are the days of passengers walking through the terminal at YMK.


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