CommunityAIR – devoted to restoring the lands and harbour now occupied by the Toronto Island airport to park, recreation, and cultural uses.

Jets at the Island Airport

Porter Flight Path

On April 10, 2013, Robert Deluce, the CEO of Porter Airlines, held a press conference to announce that he wanted to bring jets to the Island Airport. This is the latest in the long series of proposals to turn the Island into a major airport bringing noise, pollution, traffic chaos and turning the Waterfront and the central city into an industrial wasteland.

Porter has made a conditional offer to buy 12 Bombardier CS100 Series jets with an option for another 18. The deal is conditional on Porter getting permission to use the jets at the Island Airport (the Billy Bishop City Centre Airport).

In order to get permission, Porter requested the amendment of the Tripartite Agreement that governs the Island Airport. That means the federal government, the Toronto Port Authority and the City of Toronto will all have to agree to allow the jets on the Island. In the past the federal government and Port Authority have agreed to anything Porter has asked for. The big debate, and ultimately the final decision on the jet proposal, will be made by Toronto City Council.

In order to turn the Island Airport into a jet facility it will have to go through major expansion. Initially Deluce said that the east-west runway will have to be lengthened 168 metres at each end of the runway to allow the jets to land and take-off safely. Later he said they would have to be lengthened 200 metres at each end. This will be a dramatic expansion of the physical size of the airport—well over the length of four football fields. The runways will take up much of the west end of the harbour and extend well out into Humber Bay. The keep-away buoys will also have to be moved. All of this will restrict sailing in the harbour and Lake Ontario.

Porter is also asking for more slots at the Island Airport. That means more take-offs and landings and more passengers. In turn, that will lead to more ground traffic and congestion for the people in Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood and more noise and pollution for the Waterfront and the city.

This announcement created a firestorm of controversy. The most important immediate problem was the issue of noise. Deluce claimed that the CSeries jets will be quiet, but he was careful to say it does not mean they are quieter than the Q400, the plane Porter currently flies out of the Island. The noise from the Q400 is already a problem for many who live along the Waterfront, and it is unbearable for many of the residents of Bathurst Quay.

Another issue is traffic congestion. Airports attract lots of traffic because people expect to drive or take taxis to the terminal. The Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood and Queen’s Quay west are residential communities. More people are moving into the area in the condos west of Bathurst Street. Already this has put a strain on city services and the schools in the area. The traffic is bringing additional pollution and safety concerns as taxis rush down Eireann Quay to the airport city side terminal. There have been at least three collisions between taxis and cyclists.

Central to the issue is recreation, economic development and the quality of life for everyone in the city. Toronto Harbour, the Islands and Lake Ontario are major recreational resources used by millions. The Waterfront now attracts 12.5 million people annually. The Waterfront is being transformed into a residential community, the workplace of thousands of people and home to scores of businesses. All of this is threatened by an expanded Island Airport.

The controversy spilled into many different areas.

  • Why should the City of Toronto turn over much of its Waterfront, harbour, lake and Islands into an airport and give it to one airline entrepreneur, Robert Deluce?
  • Porter and the Toronto Port Authority said in the past that they had no intension of flying jets out of the Island Airport. Now they have completely reversed themselves. Could their intensions ever be believed in the future?
  • Why was Porter making this proposal? The Toronto Port Authority is the operator of the Billy Bishop Airport but it was Porter who made this proposal, not the TPA. Later it was learned that the Port Authority did not even know that Porter was going to make this proposal. They were blindsided, just like the public. Who is in charge, the public or one airline businessman?
  • There was a concern that allowing jets at the Island Airport will mean not only the CSeries jets, but all makes and types of jets will be allowed. That means loud executive jets, big commercial passenger jets—jets of ever type of make will be allowed to take-off and land at the Island.
  • Many pointed out that in the summer of 2015 the fixed rail link between Union Station and Pearson will be opened. That will end the argument that the Island Airport is necessary for the convenience of the business sector.
  • Porter should relocate to Pearson where jets are already allowed. That would eliminate the threat to the Waterfront and all of the people living there and it would mean that the hundreds of millions of dollars that the expansion would cost could be used for other public infrastructure projects in Toronto.
  • The issue of the financial viability of Porter just will not go away. Evidence continues to mount that Porter has never made a profit despite the claims of Deluce. (Porter is a private company and they are not required to publish financials.) In recent months it is clear that the number of passengers carried by Porter have plateaued. Air Canada and West Jet are reorganizing their companies to offer low cost service. All of this will seriously affect the financial viability of the airline and could lead to it suddenly shutting-down. All of the infrastructure investment would be lost.
  • Did Robert Deluce float the idea of jets in a desperate measure to save his company?

When the issue came to City Council the Executive Committee directed the staff to write a report on the proposal. That report became a key document in the subsequent debate. Initially staff recommended that the request was too premature. There were too many questions that could not be answered and issues and issues of concern. Staff recommended that the decision should be put off until March 2015. Under pressure staff agreed that the issue should go forward to City Council.

The politics at council on this issue are not to be ignored. Mayor Rob Ford was in disgrace and his place was taken by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly. Both were pro-airport expansion. The downtown councillors were opposed to expansion and those from the suburbs were mixed, some in favour, some opposed. The vote promised to be close.

As the date of the council meeting drew close other political bodies examined the issue. The board of Waterfront Toronto had refused to get involved in Island Airport issues in the past but the jet proposal was too much. They voted against with only one board member in favour of the Porter expansion plans. The Toronto Board of Health was even clearer. They cited the threat of increased air pollution as a real concern and voted unanimously against the jet proposal.

The Executive Committee held public hearings on the proposal and over 165 people and organizations asked to be deputants and 85 were heard. The deputations were overwhelmingly opposed to jets and expansion but some were in favour. Clearly Deluce and Porter had worked hard to recruit people to speak favorably about the project. Most of the supporters, as it turned out, were Porter employees.

The final decision of council was somewhat ambiguous. They did not reject the proposal outright but said that the Toronto Port Authority would have to resolve neighbourhood issues before it would be considered. Traffic was the chief problem. Later it was estimated that it would cost at least $100 million to resolve the traffic problems but others felt there were no resolutions that would work.

Another serious concern is that the tests of the CS100 were not complete at the time of the vote. Only after all of the technical data is analyzed will the noise parameters of the aircraft be known. By the summer of 2014 the testing of the CS100 by Bombardier seems to be stalled because of technical difficulties with the plane.

Those of us in CommunityAIR don’t know what is going on in the board rooms and back rooms, but this we do know. If Porter’s proposed amendments are passed by Toronto City Council we will see a quantum leap in the size and operations of the Island Airport. There will be jets, the runways will be lengthened by filling the harbour and lake, the number of flights will increase dramatically and the traffic, pollution and everything else that a major airport brings will literally be on the city’s doorstep.

This is the crucial moment for the Island Airport. If the airport is expanded allowing jets, it will lead to a significant deterioration of the Waterfront and ultimately will harm the quality of life of all people in Toronto. But if the vote is defeated then there is a very good chance that the airport will simply wither away because it is unprofitable.

This is the time to mobilize opposition to the expansion of the Island Airport. If you care about Lake Ontario, Toronto Harbour, the Islands, the Waterfront and the city, now is the time to convince your family, friends, workmates, neighbours and particularly your local politicians that the expansion will cause irreparable harm to all we love about Toronto.

CommunityAIR, August 2014

Shut Down The Island Airport, Abolish The Toronto Port Authority.

Help us achieve a Clean, Green Waterfront

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