Andre Nadeau steps into a dark room inside the “nerve centre” of Pearson International Airport. In front of him is a large meeting table surrounded by chairs and four large television monitors. On each chair is a reflective safety vest labelled with key roles in the event of a crisis, such as “Police,” “Communication,” and “GTAA Financial Department.”
If and when people appear in this room and put on the vests, it means an emergency has occurred at the airport.
Nadeau, 40, is one of six airport duty managers (ADMs) at Pearson who oversee the airport and this emergency operations centre. Nadeau works a mix of shifts; some days he works from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and others from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nadeau started his career as a flight attendant 22 years ago, and moved into crewing and operations. He has worked different management positions for years before becoming a duty manager employed by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).
While the airport is open 24-hours, flights begin each day at 6 a.m. and passengers arrive much earlier to check in.
“Four a.m. is the time that the airport essentially wakes up again and gets ready for the critical morning operation.”
The first task of the day is to check the baggage system. There are hundreds of kilometres of baggage belts at the airport. If one fails, it slows down the system. “It happens quite a bit,” Nadeau says. When this happens, he quickly contacts a baggage manager and sends someone to manually solve the problem.
If Nadeau and his team have a successful 4 a.m. start, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll have a successful day, he says.
The emergency operations centre is used only for major events that have the potential to impact airport operations. The last time the centre was opened was in March, when a fire led to the cancellation of several flights and the closure of part of Terminal 1.
But these kinds of emergencies don’t happen often, Nadeau says.
GTAA spokesperson Robin Smith says there are approximately 50,000 employees at the airport working for more than 300 employers.
“Hundreds would be a broad but accurate way to approximate how many people could be here at 4 a.m.,” says Smith. It’s hard to give an exact number because hundreds of companies working at Pearson all schedule themselves and don’t need to report to GTAA, he adds.
The number of workers also depends on the season. In the winter, snow removal teams can add hundreds to the overnight workforce, says Nadeau.
According to Transport Canada, there are 17 international airports in Canada. Pearson has six ADMs and international airports usually have ADMs around this number, says Nadeau.
Asked for three words that describe his job, Nadeau used “exciting,” “challenging” and “unknown.”
“You never know what’s going to happen. You can have a plan together on what you think will happen, (but) it never happens that way. So you need to be adaptable, to change your plan of action to serve.
“My least favourite thing is paperwork,” he adds.
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Online: Toronto Observer