In the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, along the western 401 highway, sits Canada’s largest and busiest airport, Pearson International. Often called simply Pearson, or by its airport code “YYZ”, this airport is an aviation hub of North America between Chicago and New York.
Pearson is the the 4th busiest airport in North America and the 18th busiest in the world. In 2013 the airport handled more than 34 million passengers and more than 500,000 flights! Pearson is also the center for FedEx operations in Canada, is a hub for all Star Alliance flights to Canada and is the headquarters of Canada’s flagship carrier, Air Canada. As an international airport, Pearson has a fully-functioning customs, immigration and inspection system in place.
Pearson’s economic contribution to the region cannot be underscored. More than 108,000 people are directly employed by the airport while a further 80,000 people have jobs in the community as a result of the airport. This activity generates several billion dollars a year, making Pearson one of the most vital economic engines of growth in southern Ontario.
Pearson grew from fairly humble beginnings. In 1935 the federal government approached several farmsteads to the west of Toronto and offered to purchase their land to build a municipal airport. The farmers agreed and construction on the new Malton Airport began in 1937. A single terminal and runway were built, and it was used mainly for privately-owned aircraft and flying clubs. The airport had become popular and several passenger airlines were requesting permission to operate from this small airfield. In 1939 construction on a second, larger terminal began, but passenger traffic was suspended with the outbreak of the Second World War that same year.
Malton Airport became part of the Commonwealth Air Training Program and the airport was aggressively expanded under the wartime demands. Multiple hangars and runways were built, solid buildings were constructed, radar and advanced radio communications towers and underground passageways were all constructed. By 1942 Malton Airport had already become one of the biggest airports in Canada, albeit for military reasons. Over the course of the war 104,000 men and women were trained for various air force-related roles at Malton Airport. These people came from all over the Commonwealth and also the United States.
After the war Malton Airport reverted back to civilian use, although much larger than it had been before the war. To accomodate the increased demand for passenger flights to the US, a third terminal that included passenger pre-clearance was built, and larger and more robust runways that could handle the new jet aircraft were constructed (one of these 1949 runways is now a taxiway). During the 1950’s, as commercial aviation boomed and jet technology grew, so did Malton. In fact, in the late 1950’s the Avro Arrow was test-flown from the airport!
By 1960 more than 2 million passengers a year were travelling through Malton Airport, and the existing structures could not keep up with demand. In 1963 the airport re-organized and constructed a new international terminal with US pre-clearance, which is today’s Terminal 1. In February of 1964 Prime Minister Lester Pearson officially opened the new terminal with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The airport also had a name change. It was no longer called Malton Airport but would from now-on be called Toronto International Airport.
The new terminal 1 was considered state of the art in the 1960’s, but growth in the “Golden Horseshoe” area of Toronto was exceeding the terminal’s abilities to handle passengers by 1970, and a new terminal, Terminal 2, was opened in 1973. All international travel was routed through Terminal 2, while domestic flights would come and go from Terminal 1.
In 1984, in honor of the Prime-Minister who had opened the newly re-designed Toronto International Airport, the airport was given the name “Pearson International Airport”. With the new international airport lettering system, it was also given the call letters “YYZ” that same year.
As Toronto boomed, the airport continued to outgrow it’s facilities, so that in 1991 construction on a third “super terminal” began. Terminal 3 was built as both an international and domestic terminal to handle overflow from the other two terminals. WestJet, Air Transat, Sky Team and One World all use Terminal 3. In 1996 the federal agency in charge of airports relinquished responsibility and created privately-run “airport authorities” to manage the nation’s airports. The Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) was officially created with both public and private stakeholders to operate and manage the airport. In 2004 the GTAA invested a further $200 million into YYZ, creating state-of-the-art systems and several large shopping and dining area.
With the continual expansion of this international airport came the constant need for parking and amenities. No less than 6 large parking garages and 5 large hotels are attached to the airport, while several privately-owned garages dot the area around the airport. In 2006 the GTAA built the fully-automated LINK Train, a light-passenger monorail to connect all the terminals, hotels and parking garages.
Today, Pearson continues to be an economic driver in the region and one of the largest airports in North America. The airport has several more expansions planned over the next decade, and construction on a new subway line that would link the airport and the city of Mississauga to the Toronto subway system has already begun.