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Mirabel's last plane has flown

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Mirabel's last plane has flown

'it's really sad' Questions and accusations fly


The Gazette

November 1, 2004

Thanh Nhan Nguyen shakes her head in astonishment as she surveys the row of empty check-in counters at Mirabel airport.

"It's really sad," said Nguyen, as she and her husband, Kevan Phan, waited to get on one of Mirabel's final flights yesterday.

"I don't know what to say. I came here 30 years ago to see the opening of the airport. And now we're on one of the last flights."

The elderly couple's 5:45 p.m. Air Transat flight to Orlando departed on time from the dimly lit terminal, still as white and gleaming as when Nguyen first saw the airport in 1975.

Only now the terminal is covered with signs reminding passengers that as of today, chartered flights will be moved to Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport in Dorval.

The end of passenger flights at Mirabel is sparking questions over the airport's future and accusations over how the terminal - built through the expropriation of 97,000 acres of farmland - could end up as a travellers' ghostland.

"This is an enormous waste of public money, but the government just closes its eyes," said Mirabel Mayor Hubert Meilleur, while sitting in the airport's deserted food court.

"The (federal government's) sponsorship scandal is nothing compared to this."

Meilleur called for a public inquiry into what he identified as the decisions that led to Mirabel's demise: a failure to complete rapid road and rail links to Mirabel, along with the Aeroport de Montreal's 2002 decision to transfer the flights.

"We denounce the sponsorship scandal. Why don't we denounce the scandal of Quebec's airports?"

Yet Meilleur said there's little political will to hold an inquiry, since both the provincial and federal governments contributed to the airport's demise.

With the loss of 160 jobs, and the transfer of 1,240 Mirabel workers to Trudeau airport, Meilleur expressed concern for his town's economy.

Passengers asked how the ADM intends to turn around Mirabel's financial problems.

"The real question is what are they going to do about it now," said Louis Arsenault, while waiting with his wife Phyllis Walsh to pick up friends.

The ADM is now reviewing four proposals by consortiums that want to rent the airport and its facilities, said spokesperson Christiane Beaulieu. Although she wouldn't discuss the proposals, Beaulieu confirmed that one idea is to turn it into a training centre for aviation security.

Protesters denouncing the airport's closing held a vigil before Mirabel's final passengers left aboard an 8:55 p.m. Air Transat flight to Paris. The protesters used their vigil to promote Quebec separation.

For Nguyen, Mirabel's closing is most disappointing because it hasn't changed much since the day it opened.

"I saw it was magnificent at the time," she said. "Now the airport is still magnificent; that's why it's sad."


© The Gazette (Montreal) 2004

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