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Skylights, sheets of granite and glass and $9-million-worth of art will make Pearson International Airport's new Terminal 1 a fitting gateway to Toronto, airport authority chief Louis Turpen said yesterday.

Showing reporters around the facility, which is set to open next year, Mr. Turpen also shrugged off continuing criticism from the world's airlines about the cost of the $3.6-billion structure, which has meant major hikes in the fees airlines pay to pass through Pearson.

Unveiled yesterday, the new terminal more than eclipses its outdated 40-year-old predecessor and the old Terminal 2, which was converted from a cargo building in the 1970s, Mr. Turpen said.

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The new terminal's collection of contemporary art, a design element Mr. Turpen became known for when he oversaw renovations at San Francisco's airport, lightens up key areas.

Passengers headed toward security checks for international flights will pass by a wall-like aquarium, designed by German artist Ingo Maurer, which is filled with bubbling water and moving plastic cubes. Oversized white paper airplanes, by artist Robert Charles Coyle of Windsor, Ont., hang from the ceiling over a departure lounge. Suspended in the circular skylight marking the grand entrance to a "pier" of airplane gates are giant figures of coloured glass by Maine artist Jonathan Borofsky.

"The art doesn't jump out at you, it doesn't assault you . . . quite frankly, you're assaulted enough when you travel," Mr. Turpen said.

The overall design of the terminal, full of wide-open spaces, windows and natural light, is meant to calm passengers and show them where they are going, said Moshe Safdie, one of the architects. For instance, leaving the check-in counter, you can see the runways. The glass walls even let passengers watch their bags as a conveyor belt takes them away after check-in.

"You can look back to where you've come from, and on to where you are going," Mr. Safdie said.

The new terminal was originally supposed to open in October of this year, but was delayed. Planes will now likely start taxiing to the new Terminal 1 on April 6, Mr. Turpen said, adding that the five-year project will finish within 2 per cent of its budget target.

Under the Greater Toronto Airport Authority's 10-year, $4.4-billion expansion plan, the new terminal will grow and gradually also replace Terminal 2. Once completed, the new Terminal 1 will be able to handle between 33 million and 35 million passengers a year.

The new terminal -- the largest private construction project in Canadian history -- has faced serious opposition from the world's major airlines because of its price tag and the higher landing fees required to pay for it. In October, the GTAA said it would increase the landing fees charged to airlines by 27.7 per cent next year. Terminal fees, to pay for boarding gates and check-in counters, are rising by 19.6 per cent.

The International Air Transport Association, representing nearly 300 airlines, calls those increases unprecedented. Mr. Turpen, who has banned IATA from Pearson's premises, said the fight with the airlines about the new terminal is effectively over, since the structure is nearly complete.

"That issue, frankly, is pretty dead. . . . I'm not sure how many people would subscribe to us knocking it [the new terminal]down."

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