Montreal back on track after losing 25% of traffic following ‘9/11’

Back in the 1960s, Montreal was an exciting and thriving major city. Having held the World Expo in 1967 the city had also constructed its own metro and it seemed that the airport, which was close to the downtown area, should be replaced by a new out-of-town, state-of-the-art facility. This resulted in the opening of Montreal International (Mirabel) airport in October 1975.

Let’s build a white elephant

The plan was that Mirabel would replace Montreal Trudeau (or Dorval as it was known then). Initially, all international flights were forced to use Mirabel (YMX), while domestic flights stayed at Dorval (YUL). However, hosting the 1976 summer Olympics helped bankrupt the city and combined with the development of longer range (and quieter) aircraft the need for the new airport seemed less certain.

Map: Montreal International Airport

Image: Scene from the move ‘The Terminal’
Mirabel was used as a film set for 2004’s ‘The Terminal’, which starred Tom Hanks.

The failure to build the planned rail link was also a major factor in Mirabel’s failure. By the mid-90s the artificial nature of the split airport operations was no longer considered acceptable or justifiable and in 1997 scheduled airlines were at last free to choose which Montreal airport they wished to fly to. However, charter and cargo flights were still forced to use Mirabel.

Finally, at the end of October 2004, Mirabel was closed to commercial flights leaving only cargo flights still operating there. Since then it has been used as a film set for the Tom Hanks movie ‘The Terminal’ and is now being re-imagined as AeroDream, a theme park and tourist attraction, which will open in a few year’s time.

Honouring a Prime Minister

On 1 January 2004, Dorval airport was re-named in honour of the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, something of an irony given his involvement and commitment to the Mirabel airport development. Total traffic across the two airports has grown gradually since 2002..

Chart: ADM Traffic 1999-2007

The after-effects of ‘9/11′ cost Montreal around 25% of its traffic and it was not until the summer of 2004 that traffic overtook the levels seen pre-9/11. After solid growth of 5.4% and 5% in 2005 and 2006, traffic in the first six months of 2007 has been up more than 8% compared with 2006.

New carriers in 2007 include JetX with weekly flights to Reykjavik, Royal Jordanian with a twice-weekly service to Amman and Air Algerie with twice-weekly flights to Algiers. Air Canada has added a new direct service to Rome, while Air Transat has added Barcelona, Malaga and Vienna to its network from Montreal.

Domestic route enhancements include Westjet adding new services to Edmonton (six flights per week), Charlottetown (three flights per week) and Halifax (three flights per week). Porter Airlines has also added a twice-daily service to Halifax.

Air Canada still has 60% of flights

Not surprisingly, Air Canada is still the dominant carrier at YUL. Having survived some turbulent times in the last few years, the carrier is once more profitable. The demise of low-cost competition in the guise of jetsgo and CanJet has helped the airline consolidate its domestic position, with Westjet now the only real national (as opposed to regional) competitor.

Airline Frequency share Capacity share
Image: Air Transit ad
Image: Click to download spreadsheet
Click here to download
Air Canada 59.6% 52.5%
Air Transat 2.8% 7.6%
Westjet 5.1% 6.7%
American Airlines 5.3% 4.7%
Air France 1.2% 4.2%
Delta Air Lines 3.5% 2.0%
Porter Airlines 2.8% 2.0%
Northwest 2.0% 1.9%
Continental 3.8% 1.7%
United 2.4% 1.6%
Others 11.5% 15.1%
Image: Toronto Tower
Not Toronto airport’s control tower but the downtown CN Tower, which at 553m is still the world’s tallest building and a major visitor attraction.

Westjet began low-cost flights from Montreal on 24 April 2003 with flights to Calgary. This summer they will almost double their routes from four to seven. Air Transat operates primarily to Europe using a fleet of Airbus A310s and A330s.

A full list of who operates where can be found in the downloadable spreadsheet.

Toronto dominates route network

Despite only being 504km away (a pleasant five-hour drive), Toronto’s Lester B Pearson airport (YYZ) is the destination of more than one-sixth of all seats departing Montreal. These are generated by 200 weekly departures, with Air Canada and Westjet accounting for the vast majority. The other leading destinations are shown in the table below.

Route Frequency share Capacity share Aircraft size Distance
Toronto (YYZ) 11.6% 18.5% 161 seats 506 km
Paris (CDG) 2.7% 8.2% 306 seats 5,520 km
Vancouver (YVR) 2.7% 4.7% 176 seats 3,679 km
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) 5.2% 4.1% 80 seats 1,198 km
Halifax (YHZ) 3.8% 3.7% 99 seats 804 km
Calgary (YYC) 2.4% 3.1% 134 seats 3,003 km
Quebec (YQB) 7.6% 3.0% 41 seats 227 km
London Heathrow (LHR) 1.2% 2.8% 230 seats 5,212 km
Ottawa (YOW) 4.6% 2.2% 48 seats 150 km
New York (LGA) 2.7% 2.2% 81 seats 522 km

The top 10 routes are a mix of very short-haul domestic, transcontinental domestic, short-haul US and transatlantic services.

Image: Montreal’s olympic stadium
Montreal’s iconic Olympic Stadium with the downtown area in the background. Among the towers in view are the head offices of both ICAO and IATA.


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