Toronto Pearson International Airport
Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) is the biggest airport in Canada with more than 435,000 flight movements and 38.5 million passengers in 2014. The last metric places this airport firmly in the top 40 busiest airports in the world (refer to our coverage of the Top 30 Busiest Airports of the World here). For many years, the airport generously offers free airside behind the scenes tour of its operations. Follow us below on our adventure.
Toronto Pearson International Airport (43° 40′ 36″ N, 79° 37′ 50″ W) is technically located in Mississauga, Ontario which is just west of the City of Toronto. Air Canada (AC) operates a key hub here and is the largest tenant followed by WestJet (WS).
Given the wintery weather from December to March, this airport is equipped with one of the biggest de-icing facilities in the world with twelve bays that are capable of clearing ice in less than ten minutes.
The airport has five runways and is certified to handle all aircraft types including the Airbus A380-800.
Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) manages the daily operation and manages this tour which runs from Monday to Saturday between May to October. As slots are free and limited, availability is filled up quickly. In order to join the tour, each participant must:
- Valid government-issued photo ID – A passport, Driver’s Licence, or Ontario Photo Health Card are the only pieces of identification that will be accepted
- Those under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
- Be prepared to be security-screened (e.g. going through metal detectors)
All participants are requested to check in with a GTAA official at least fifteen minutes prior to the tour start time to receive security badges. This is also when they would be screened by a security personnel. We arrived about twenty minutes early and parked at a nearby visitor’s lot (free).
After check in was completed, we were instructed to board a dedicated bus that will be out home for the next two hours. Everyone was asked to wear safety vests located at the front of the bus for protection.
Two Hour Adventure
Every tour is unique based on real time operations. Our first stop was to one of two fire stations located at the east end of the airport. The fire stations are manned by up to sixteen individuals who are trained to manage different types of emergencies.
We were allowed to board onto fire engine no.3 which costed $CDN2 million and has the latest fire fighting technology.
Today, we were treated with a bonus demonstration of the engine’s fire fighting capabilities. The powerful water jets have a distance capacity of more than 150 feet (45 meters). You would not want to stand in front of the jets.
After receiving clearance by the control tower, we travelled on a runway for about two minutes, turned off and arrived at the Wildlife Control Center. In 2009, there were 97 bird strikes at the Toronto Pearson International Airport (refer to news release for details). These strikes can significant impact flight operations. As such, GTAA set up a dedicated centre with trained falcons and eagles used regularly to deter birds from entering the 4,500 hectare premise.
While we were at the Wildlife Control Center, we were also treated with two incidents of aircrafts having to abort landing due to another on the runway. Here is picture of one of the aircraft pulling up (on the right hand side of the screen):
In between different tour stops, our guide told us some interesting facts about the airport including the following:
- GTAA purchased a nearby hotel and lowered its height to improve safety
- The airport is the first in North America to achieve ISO certification for Environmental Management and opened their first LEED® Certified building in 2007
- Once the airport hits 45 million passengers, GTAA will build additional piers to build capacity up to 60 million. That’s 1.66 times more than the entire Canadian population.
Next stop on our adventure took us up close and personal with a United Parcel Service (UPS) aircraft at its hangar near runway 33R/15L. We were able to physically inspect a UPS Airbus A300-600RF on site.
Given we were so close to the runway, we were able to catch many takeoffs and landings on this cloudy day. Here is an example of an Air Canada Boeing 787 (refer to our coverage on where Air Canada is deploying their 787s here) taking off from runway 33R-15L:
This marked the end of our airside tour of Toronto Pearson International Airport. For more information on how to register for the tour, follow this link. Want to see more pictures from this tour? You can see more by following us on Instagram
We thank the GTAA and Toronto Pearson International Airport for the opportunity to join the tour. This is highly recommended for all aviation enthusiasts.