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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on September 25, 2016

Big year for Montréal

Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) president and CEO, James Cherry, talks to Joe Bates about the transformation of Montréal-Trudeau, hosting the biggest ACI event of the year and his impending retirement.

It is a big year for Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), which will host the joint ACI North America/ACI World Assembly, Conference and Exhibition in September as Montréal–Trudeau International Airport celebrates its 75th anniversary and sets new traffic records.

Hosting ACI World’s annual conference in his hometown is certainly a huge thrill for Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) president and CEO, James Cherry, who reveals that the company has been planning to host the event for years.

“We wanted to host World and North America in the same year and in the same timeframe as ICAO’s major three-year Assembly,” enthuses Cherry.

“It is also the 25th Anniversary of ACI, the 75th anniversary of Montréal-Trudeau and the city is about to celebrate its 375th birthday, so all these factors really drove our desire to host the event in 2016.”

“To be honest with you it is also time that Montréal – the world’s capital of civil aviation, especially so in the last few years since ACI, CANSO and IFALPA have joined ICAO and IATA and a host of aviation and aerospace companies here – once again hosted the airport
industry’s biggest event.”

In addition Cherry said it would give delegates who were in Montréal in 2001 for the World Assembly the opportunity to see how much Montréal-Trudeau has changed over the last 15 years.

“When we hosted the event in 2001 we hadn’t renovated the facilities at all, so it was the old Montréal airport and unrecognisable from today’s airport, which we have totally transformed over the past decade and in particular in the last couple of years,” he says.


New facilities

These have included the newly expanded International jetty, which opened earlier this year; a raft of new sense of place commercial offerings; an innovative rest area called the ‘Room to Read’; and a children’s playground.

Several high-end retail stores have also been added and the duty-free shopping area, The Loop, expanded as part of the concessions revamp which has seen Montreal-Trudeau’s retail and F&B services grow by 40% to over 100 outlets in the past five years.

“The new-look jetty is an integral part of our strategy to attract more international traffic to Montréal-Trudeau and facilitate its growing role as a transportation hub,” he says. 

“International passenger traffic has grown at an annual clip of nearly 10% over the past decade, nearly double the rate of increase for domestic and transborder traffic, and we expect it to continue to climb. 

“Montréal–Trudeau has also become the most ‘international’ of Canada’s major airports, with nearly 60% of its passengers travelling to international destinations, including the United States. 

“With the expanded international jetty, we now have sufficient capacity to grow for the next nine years. It offers six new boarding gates capable of handling A380s and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, as well as the equivalent of two additional gates accessible by shuttle. 

“The extra infrastructure processes US transborder passengers as well as international traffic and, with the clever use of movable glass walls, we can convert a gate from international to US transborder use as operational circumstances dictate.”

The airport now has 60 contact gates (16 each for international and transborder flights, plus 28 domestic) as well as eight remote stands. He adds that initial feedback on the expanded jetty, which opened in May, has been positive.

“We’ve expanded this place, we’ve modernised it and we’ve turned it into a fantastic facility and the people of Montréal are truly proud of what we’ve done,” comments Cherry. 

“Hosting the World Assembly will also give us the chance to showcase the airport to the world and the efforts of Aéroports de Montréal to improve not only the airport’s infrastructure but the customer service experience as well. 

“I am proud of our achievements. We have come a very long way in a relatively short space of time and I want the world to see it.”

Does the opening of the new international jetty signal the end of the infrastructure development projects at Montréal-Trudeau?

“The completion of development projects at an airport is a bit of an oxymoron as there is no such thing as being finished,” muses Cherry. “People always ask me when will the construction be finished at the airport and think I am being facetious when I say that it will never be finished. But I am not, because we are constantly modernising to keep pace with technological developments and rising passenger demand.”

He notes that passenger numbers at the airport have doubled over the last 15 years – a record 15.52 million passengers (+4.6%) used the gateway in 2015 and it is on target to break the 16mppa barrier this year – and states that better and more modern equipment will always be needed to increase Montréal-Trudeau’s capacity and operational efficiency.

Cherry cites how self-service check-in kiosks and self bag-drop machines are helping transform the check-in process and the impact new interactive technologies are having on the airport shopping and dining experiences as examples of game changing IT.


IT innovation

“We are continually looking at how we can improve the customer experience and ever-increasingly IT provides the solution, as the answer isn’t always to throw more bodies at a problem,” he says.

“We have embraced IT and will continue to do so where we think it can make a difference to the customer experience. Our philosophy is definitely not IT for IT’s sake. If it makes life better for passengers and improves the operational efficiency then it will be on our radar.”

He notes that Montréal-Trudeau’s new, improved YULi mobile phone app contains a wayfinding tool and provides users with information about the airport’s retail and F&B offerings, including the latest duty free promotions.

Indeed, ADM’s strategy of integrating the best IT solutions into almost everything it does led to Montréal-Trudeau becoming one of the first airports in North America to introduce web check-in, common use kiosks, automated border control (ABC) Customs clearance kiosks and other innovative technology.

“We are always pushing the IT envelope and looking at opportunities to do more and, I don’t mind admitting that we are absolutely willing to learn from IT innovations at other airports,” says Cherry.


Leadership and change management

Finding, recruiting and nurturing the development of the airport leaders of tomorrow, and leadership and change management have always been subjects close to Cherry’s heart, and looking for a new leader is now a scenario faced by ADM after the recent announcement of his intention to retire at the end of the year.

Why now? “The last 15 years have been an unbelievable experience for me and I cannot tell you how much I’ve enjoyed it, but I just feel that it is the right time to move on,” he replies.

“Yes, there have been some tough times. We had 9/11, SARS, Air Canada’s filing for bankruptcy protection, the second Gulf War and the recession of 2007/08, so it hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses, but I can honestly tell you that I’ve never had a better professional experience in my life.

“I’ve been blessed with great people to work with at ADM and had the pleasure of working with ACI World and ACI North America, which again has been a real pleasure and a lifetime highlight for so many reasons, none more so than the because of the camaraderie with some fantastic people.

“However, I’ve always felt that it is important to know when it is time to go and I think that after delivering a bunch of projects that have helped transform Montréal-Trudeau, and with ADM hosting the ACI World/ACI NA conference this year, that the time is right to turn the page and let someone else lead the organisation on the next chapter of its journey.”


Employer of choice

Losing Cherry will, of course, be a big blow to ADM, but as you would expect from an organisation headed by someone whose passion is very much focused on staff development and succession management, it is in a good position to recruit a successor from either within or
outside the company.

ADM’s success in its stated goal of becoming an ‘employer of choice’ will certainly help it in the recruitment process as the airport is viewed locally as one of the best places to work for both new and existing employees.

“We are seen by the marketplace of Montréal as a fantastic place to work, where people are well treated and given great opportunities to grow and be promoted with the company,” he enthuses. 

“So, the whole notion of leadership and the growth and development of talent has been central to our thinking for a number of years.”

This commitment to staff development will actually be reflected in the programme at the Montréal conference by a seminar on leadership on the morning of September 28.

He notes that ADM’s renumeration package for its executive team and management is very competitive and comparable with the private sector.

“Working at the airport is an attractive proposition for graduates and we are certainly not short of applicants for all our jobs,” says Cherry, noting that the day earlier he had popped into a shop in downtown Montréal to buy some coffee and was recognised by one of the staff who promptly asked him for a job!


New train link

ADM has been lobbying for a rapid rail link between Montreal-Trudeau and downtown for over a decade and Cherry is confident that this could now happen by ADM’s goal of 2020. 

Last spring, Quebec’s pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, proposed a 67-kilometre electric light-rail transit system for the Greater Montréal area that would feature downtown and airport stops. 

The project’s estimated cost is C$5.5 billion, of which the Caisse is willing to commit C$3 billion. It could become a reality if Québec and the federal government agree to co-invest in the project. “If the project gets the go ahead, construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2017, with the first trains running at the end of 2020,” says Cherry.

“It would be the largest infrastructure project for Montréal since the creation of the metro in 1966. ADM is fully supportive of this project and working with the Caisse to make it a reality.”


Future passenger trends

As the world evolves and people’s habits change – such as millennials not wanting to drive cars – isn’t it inevitable that the new breed of traveller will want to spend as little time in airports as possible and simply get to their end destinations as fast as possible?

“You know I don’t think so as today’s generation are all about experiences and I believe they won’t mind spending time at the airport if there is something interesting to do there,” suggest Cherry.

“Airports are going to have to become experiences in their own right where people go to get something exciting and different.” 

He notes that inline with this philosophy the airport has completely revamped its food outlets over the last year to create a much more Montréal centric offering.

It includes a number of well-known brands you only find in downtown Montréal and Cherry says the move has proved so successful that he now knows of people that come to the airport even earlier than before just to eat at its restaurants.

“Airports have to stay ahead of the curve and constantly look at how they can make the passenger experience better, because continuing to do what you’ve done for the last ten years or even the last two for that matter into the future just isn’t going to work,” he states.

Jim, it’s been a pleasure. Enjoy your retirement.

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Mark Draper

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