Many airports worldwide already tie in air travel with rail, bus and subway transportation. Just think of Heathrow in London or Hong Kong International. Even Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, a piker among the world’s heavyweights, is directly connected to that country’s railway network.
But Toronto’s Pearson International lacks this setup. True, it does boast a rapid transit link to Toronto’s busy Union Station. But it still lacks direct connections to Via Rail, Canada’s nationwide passenger service, or to GO Transit, the commuter network that serves Toronto and its sprawling bedroom communities. Pearson also lacks any direct connection with Toronto’s subway lines.
But all this may be about to change. The airport now says it wants to morph into a mega-transportation hub with direct links to GO Transit and to the Toronto Transit Commission. The hub would also provide a berth for bus service for the City of Mississauga, the rapidly expanding city on Toronto’s western flank.
Moreover, to pay for the new hub, Pearson would allow private investors to take ownership stakes in the airport.
And although the proposed hub is just that, a proposal, it could send Pearson’s passenger numbers soaring — no small consideration, given that the airport, which in 2016 handled 40 million travelers, is Canada’s busiest.
Proposed transportation hub at Toronto’s Pearson Intl. Airport
Established in 1948 and located 100 kilometers southwest of Toronto, the airport is served by American Airlines, WestJet and Sunwing Airlines. In 2013, it handled roughly 138,800 passengers, while logging almost 107,000 aircraft movements. In his current job, Chris supervises a staff of 24.
Chris traces his career choice to the visits he made as a kid to Toronto’s Pearson Intl. Airport, Canada’s biggest and busiest air terminal. Indeed, he says, he was “mesmerized” by Pearson’s hustle and bustle.
“I really love working at the airport,” says Chris of his job at Waterloo Regional. “It’s really dynamic. One minute, I’m doing an interview and the next minute, I’m meeting with a prospective tenant.”
Indeed, a typical day might see Chris handling personnel matters, drumming up new business, as well as talking to local politicians — no small matter, given that the mayors of the seven municipalities served by the airport sit on its board of directors. But he’s never had any political interference, he hastens to add. Dealing with tenants also looms large on Chris’ schedule — especially if a tenant isn’t paying his bills.
From nine a.m. to four p.m. most days, Chris is in meetings — either at the airport, or at the offices of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo in nearby Kitchener. From four to six or even seven p.m., he’s often back at his office, catching up on his e-mail. His day, needless to say, is jam-packed.
In fact, during his first two years as airport manager, Chris seldom, if ever, took a day off — a schedule he attributes to his initial desire to make the changes he believed were necessary and to do what had to be done.
Now, though, he’s slowed down a bit, managing to make it home for dinner with his wife and two children (a son, seven and a daughter, five) most nights, although he’s also often on the computer or on his BlackBerry.
His wife, who handles meetings and professional development for the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association, works from home four days a week.
You say the hurly-burly at Pearson sparked your interest in a career in airport management. But how did you convert that enthusiasm into a career?
By completing a course in aviation management at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., a city an hour or so north of Toronto. After that, I spent 12 years at Pearson Intl., starting in operations at the dispatch center and then moving to other departments. While at Pearson, I also did strategic planning.
What’s your idea of a great airport?
One that caters to all parts of the aviation industry, but one that’s still able to break even, or do even better. By all parts of the aviation industry, I mean regularly scheduled flights, private jets, recreational planes, cargo shipments, as well as a flying school.
So, which airport would you like to emulate?
Abbotsford Intl. in Abbotsford, B.C., an hour’s drive from downtown Vancouver. Kelowna Intl. Airport in the British Columbia interior is another good airport, as is London Intl. Airport in London, Ont., 105 kilometers west of us. That airport is very well run. Moreover, it has not only crossed the break even point, but is now making money for its owner, the Greater London Intl. Airport Authority.
“Figure out what you love doing and try to get paid for it,” was the advice Chris got from his school guidance counselor. And, today, it’s apparent that Chris is doing just that.
With at least eight major shopping centres, Edmonton, Canada would seem to have more than enough retail outlets for its 1.16 million inhabitants.
After all, the West Edmonton Mall, the biggest in North America and the tenth-biggest in the world, boasts more than 800 stores and services, not to mention a water park, an underground aquarium, a miniature golf course, a bowling alley, an indoor amusement park and exact replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria!
At least, that’s one way to understand their recent decision to add more than 85 retailers, or 350,000 square feet of shopping space, to the 60 or so restaurants and shops that already speckle the terminal.
The development, which will consist of outlet stores, will be entirely under one roof.
Slated to open in 2016, the project is being helmed by Ivanhoe Cambridge, a Montreal-based property and development company and a subsidiary of Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, that province’s giant pension fund.
But Sandeep Agrawal, a professor of urban planning at the University of Alberta, suggests the mall may fill a retailing niche.
He admits the development may steal business from the West Edmonton Mall. But he notes that as an outlet mall, the project differs from Edmonton’s existing retail plazas.
He also notes that in addition to airport passengers, the mall will likely be targeted at residents of Northern Alberta, a region burgeoning with oil and gas development, particularly in the tar sands.
(Officials from Edmonton International were unavailable for comment).
There’s no need for Toronto‘s Pearson International Airport to work toward becoming an aerotropolis.
It already is one.
That’s the word from Toby Lennox, the airport’s vice president, strategy development and stakeholder relations.
He says Pearson, Canada’s busiest airport, has already spawned the thick bands of industrial and commercial development that characterize the modern aerotropolis.
“Just drive around the area and you’ll see it’s chockablock with what you’d normally find in an aerotropolis,” says Mr. Lennox of the freight forwarders, cargo terminals and logistics outfits that now rim the airport.
Unlike Pearson, the much smaller airport at nearby Hamilton, Ont., has officially embraced the aerotropolis concept.
Yet, this only makes sense, says Mr. Lennox, given Hamilton’s dearth of industrial development.
“It’s just a whole different model from what we have at Pearson,” he explains.
But what happens when there’s no more room left near Pearson for industrial development?
You locate an industry in Mississauga, the booming city (pop. 713,000) on Toronto‘s western flank.
“I wouldn’t necessarily be looking to see a manufacturer locate next to the airport,” says Mr. Lennox. “I may want to put it in Mississauga.”
In fact, Pearson already works closely with that city’s economic development office.
If an aerotropolis is defined by the industrial development to which it’s given rise, Pearson likely ranks with the best.
But if it’s also defined by easy access to rapid transit and high speed rail, Pearson has some catching up to do.
Still, to be fair, the airport is scheduled to be connected to downtown Toronto in 2015 by a custom-built express train.
Nonetheless, Mr. Lennox admits that to make it easier for people from across the greater Toronto area to get to jobs at Pearson, rapid transit will have to be steadily upgraded.
He says this will be particularly important as the airport’s payroll grows to keep pace with an expected boom in passenger traffic.
Now handling 36 million people a year, Pearson is expected to move 24 million more during the next 20-30 years, while its workforce, now 40,000, could hit 60,000 over the next two decades, Mr. Lennox says.
Phillip Fine questions if Canada’s busiest airport shouldn’t be the focus for aerotropolis development, rather than its struggling neighbour.
To think about Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is to contend with superlatives. For starters, it’s Canada’s biggest and busiest airport. In 2012 alone it logged close to 436,000 aircraft movements, while handling nearly 32 million passengers – just 2.5 million less than Canada’s total population.
Pearson also offers flights to 155 destinations worldwide. In fact, it’s only one of two airports in North America with scheduled direct flights to all six inhabited continents.
Not surprisingly, then, Pearson is an economic powerhouse, generating over 225,000 jobs, both direct and indirect.
Just 50 minutes to the southwest of Pearson in the suburbs of Hamilton, Ontario, is John C. Munro International Airport. It’s busy, but hardly to the same degree as Pearson, having handled just 352,000 passengers in 2012 – a little over one percent of Pearson’s total.
In fact, total passenger traffic through John C. Munro has actually plunged 193,800, or 35.1 per cent, since 2008. And although the airport, like Pearson, obviously pumps money into Hamilton’s economy, it’s a good bet the amount is far, far less than what Pearson contributes to the Greater Toronto area.
So which airport would be thought most likely to embrace the aerotropolis concept, the template with which airports re-create themselves as dynamic hubs, as engines of economic growth in their own right? John C. Munro, served by just three commercial airlines, or Pearson International, which reportedly boasts 70-plus more?
A quick search of the Net, including Pearson’s web site, turns up no mention of the word aerotropolis, let alone a lengthy “vision” document attesting to the airport’s goal of perhaps becoming one.
Moreover, two requests to Pearson’s public relations department for the airport’s response to the aerotropolis concept went unanswered.
But John C. Munro; well that’s a different story. In early July, the airport got some good news from the Ontario Municipal Board, the province’s independent agency that oversees land use. Specifically, the Board told John C. Munro to go ahead with its Airport Employment Growth District plan, aka its aerotropolis concept. The plan will see 555 hectares of industrial and commercial land around the airport developed by 2031.
Moreover, as befits the aerotropolis definition, the airport is intended to become an economic powerhouse, generating 80,000 jobs over the next 18 years. The action has not been without its critics, with the Hamiltonians for Progressive Development group leading the anti-aerotropolis charge. However last week their mission to halt development was halted itself as a judge ruled the group could not challenge the OMB’s decision in court.
Although Pearson, unlike its Hamilton counterpart, doesn’t have 555 hectares of contiguous land to develop, it does have the ingredients – rail and superhighway access, office and industrial parks – necessary for an aerotropolis to succeed.
So, why isn’t Pearson officially adopting the aerotropolis concept as well? After all, it’s the most important airport in Canada. Maybe a Pearson spokesperson will have an answer.