Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Airport sneak peek delights

Select few get a look at renos during trial run

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When architect Cesar Pelli first sought inspiration for Winnipeg's new airport, he took a helicopter ride over the Prairies.

What he saw was a connection between the people, the land and the Prairie sky. He aimed to capture that connection in the new building, part of a $585-million redevelopment of the airport.

"His goal was to reflect the community," said Christine Alongi, airport spokeswoman. "It was to be the front door to the community. When people arrive in Winnipeg, they will know they have arrived in Winnipeg."

On Saturday, it was apparent Pelli, whose credits also include the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, was successful.

About 1,300 Winnipeggers felt such a strong connection to their new airport, they volunteered two or more hours of their day to test the building and get their first glimpse of its interior. More than 4,300 had applied.

The building is awash in natural light. The arrivals area has three walls of glass and a row of windows high up along the fourth wall. The vistas are amazing. One can see the outdoors from almost every section of the airport, right down to the glassed-wall passenger-boarding bridges out to each plane.

The bathrooms are so deluxe one volunteer traveller let out a "woo hoo" upon entering. They were built for the reality of travelling, with double-width stalls to accommodate luggage and a shelf and extra coat hooks.

Each volunteer was given a script. A journalist was Ralph Hunder, a 41-year-old Canadian, travelling with one piece of luggage to London, England on Air Transat flight AT266 and back again to where a friend was picking him up outside the Winnipeg airport. Some volunteers' scripts called for them to have special needs, perhaps travelling with an animal crate or needing a wheelchair. At the end of their "journey," volunteers filled out a survey and submitted notes on their experiences.

There was a feeling of celebration in the air, with many volunteers photographing just about everything -- luggage carousels, Welcome to Winnipeg signs, flight information boards.

A statue shrouded in material in the arrivals area drew many shutterbugs and much speculation. Was it a polar bear? James Richardson? Darth Vader, a hopeful Star Wars fan opined.

Alongi said the statue's identity will remain a mystery until a special unveiling at a VIP gala Oct. 15.

First flights in and out of the airport are to start Oct. 30, she said.

julie.carl@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2011 A6

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