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February 4, 2005

The New Pearson Airport: Terminal One

As much as my wife and I love our northern winters, we recently took the opportunity to visit our daughter, her husband and their children in Montevideo, Uruguay. I thought some of the Community Voices readers might be interested in some of my observations, historical and otherwise, on our trip. Air Canada has a new direct (but expensive) non-stop flight from Toronto to Buenos Aires. We had a brief stop in Sao Paolo, Brazil at considerable savings. I write this from the balcony of the apartment of my daughter’s mother-in-law in the Old City of Montevideo, overlooking the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) one week into a month-long trip, after having spent the first week in Buenos Aires, Argentina. More about these great destinations later.

The New Pearson Airport: Terminal One (T1)

Over the years I have taken several flights out of the old Toronto Airport, but have never seen the new Pearson which opened last April. It has made history as ¨an architerural success...an engineering marvel...(and) the priciest urban construction in Canadian history.¨

I had a cursory look at the airport but was primarily concerned with my flight. Fortunately, the February issue of Toronto Life magazine has a stunning 25 page study by Don Gilmor of the airport's history and current status, with dozens of photos by Lorne Bridgman and numerous drawings and sidebars by others.

The cover of Toronto Life magazine, Feb. 2005. The 25-page article has very little on sex, drugs, and lost luggage.

The new 4.4 billion dollar airport will go a long way to compensate for an ugly history of Federal- Provincial equivocation at the airport. The fiasco at Pickering, where expropriation of 18 000 acres caused great pain, especially when the airport did not materialize. It looks now as if the Pickering site will be invaluable in the future however, as air travel will undoubtedly expand.

When the original Terminal One opened in 1968 it consolidated air travel in one location, eliminating several smaller airports. It served well until it outgrew itself several times as a result of larger planes, more passengers, terrorist threats, etc. Federal and provincial governments did a variety of things, like adding Terminal 2 and 3 and the Pickering plan, but by the late 1990s something more was needed. A new terminal was also critical symbolically, to put Toronto on the map with a new piece of architecture of international status.

The trick was to find someone who could create and carry out a plan that would keep many interests happy, and keep the terminal open while building the new one. They found their man in Lou Turpen, who had developed and administered the San Francisco airport for fifteen years. They gave him complete power and he used it. One story tells of him asking for a map with everything whited out except the roads so he could begin to plan. He irritated many people, but is recognized as the key to its success. His influence is everywhere from the airpoirt museum which bears his name to the nine million dollars worth of art.

Turpen´s biggest fight was with Air Canada, which sued for more presence in the new terminal. Pearson is now one of the 6th largest entrances into North America, and since the airport will not be complete until 2015 it will have and even greater presence in the future.

Turpen, with the help of a staff of 1200, relocated 37 businesses, bought a hotel, took off two stories and resold it, and purchased property for new roads, etc. The key to keeping the old terminal operational while the new one was built was a tunnel under the old terminal to the new terminal site. The Toronto Life article compares the engineering that took place to the children´s game where you move pieces around to get the pattern you want. Another problem was the huge amount of glass in the building. Glass is devastating in a terrorist explosion, so plastic was laminated into the glass to diminish flying shards of glass.

TI Features

There are many advanced features in the new terminal. Speaking of security, T1 has a $50,000 gadget the can identify explosives as small as a billionth of a gram to prevent bombings. If you want to lose your swiss army knife, tools, firearms etc. take them in your luggage and they will become one of the 12, 000 items confiscated at check in each month. Your baggage will be handled on 15 km of conveyor belt that can handle 18,000 bags an hour. Each bag is scanned and given a bar code, and hundreds of electronic readers follow it, sending information back to a central computer that can identify the location of each bag at any time.

They also have a dog called Skeeter who can sniff illegal food and plants in bags on internationl flights. If anyone has drugs in packages in thier stomach, they should be prepared to spend some time in a special toilet that will eventually reveal all.

There are numerous stores and restaurants before and after check-in, and the meals on Air Canada are adequate, while many more economical airlines do not serve food at all. The airport caterer has a huge kitchen with 1,200 emplyees and makes 21,000 in-flight meals a day. On a spiritual note, there is a non-denomenational chapel and an adjacent room with a carpet facing Mecca for Muslims. And last but not least, if you want to go first class and in a hurry from Terminal 1 you can rent a jet on as little as two hours notice. The Toronto Life article notes that a round trip flight to Nassau on a Gulf Stream IV for twelve people, with limosines, catering, booze, etc., goes for $51,166.

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