BBTCA Airport Master Plan Reality Check

By Monday, March 30, 2015 0 No tags Permalink 0

PortsToronto is using the July 2014 version of its Master Plan to build its case for airport expansion and jets. However, whether by design or incompetence, statistics used in its passenger activity forecasts are questionable. If the numbers don’t withstand scrutiny, how much faith should we place in an organization that uses problematic data to make its case?

It’s a question for PortsToronto as its consultant WSP prepares to make the case for a safe way to introduce Bobardier’s CS 100 to the Billy Bishop Toronto Centre Airport (BBTCA).

The June 2012 Airport Master Plan

PortsToronto’s July 2014 version of its Master Plan is the third incarnation of an exercise that started in 2011. PortsToronto sent the city the first one which saw the public light of day on December 13, 2013, seven months after the city had asked for the kind of information the Master Plan already contained..

In it, Section 4.6 PASSENGER ACTIVITY FORECASTS posits passenger growth scenarios on two assumptions. The first is based on airline activity, the annual number of passenger aircraft flying in and out of BBTCA, a fixed number based on possible allowable flights under the Tripartite Agreement. The second, somewhat more variable assumption, is based on the passenger load factors of each aircraft’s capacity.

In June 2012 PortsToronto consultant Genivar presented two passenger growth scenarios. One assumed an annual 13% growth in Porter’s load factor. The other was based on a 4.5% annual load factor growth rate which, to cite the document, “is more reflective of the growth of the regional air transportation market and reflects the typical annual growth rates experienced at Toronto Pearson International Airport.”

The 13% Porter growth figure was reasonable given the airlines’ increasing number of aircraft introduced into service from the company’s inaugural flight in 2006 until it stopped adding new aircraft in 2012. In other words, keep putting more seats in the air, chances are you’ll keep putting more bums in the seats – up to a point.

The 4.5% annual load factor growth rate typical at Pearson also seemed reasonable in June 2012 given this quote in the GTAA annual information form.

“With the recovery in air travel demand, airlines have taken a cautious approach to adding new capacity as evidenced by the fact that the number of passengers has grown faster than seat capacity during the 2010 to 2012 period, resulting in higher load factors (the ratio of passengers to available seats).”

As another measure, a comparison of Porter’s U.S. Load factor data shows impressive load factor growth for the period 2009 to 2012 according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics website.

  • 2009 to 2010 – 33.98%
  • 2010 to 2011 – 23.00%
  • 2011 to 2012 – 5.49%

Note: In order to make a uniform up-to-date comparison, data for the first nine months less April figures were used. Porter Airlines did not file April load factor data for 2014.

The June 2012 Airport Master Plan Ver. 8

On January 16, 2014 PortsToronto sent the city what it called an updated version of the Master Plan. In it, Section 4.6 PASSENGER ACTIVITY FORECASTS was identical.

However, by then the 2013 Porter Airlines first quarter load factor figures were in. They weren’t pretty. The airline stopped publishing figures in April 2013 after the first quarter data showed a decline. PortsToronto was aware of the stalled numbers as evidenced by its management discussion and analysis for 2013. PortsToronto characterizes the notable drop in growth as an increase “on a flatter curve than in prior years.”

As for the Master Plan’s annual load factor growth rate typical at Pearson, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority’s 2013 annual report shows a 2% increase, not the 4.5% assumed load factor increase for the airport. Strike two against the Master Plan Section 4.6 PASSENGER ACTIVITY FORECASTS.

Finally, the U.S. data reveals a only 2.46% increase in 2013 over that of 2012. Strike three.

The consultants had only from December 13, 2013 to January 16 2014 to revise the data, and one might wish to use the tight time line as an excuse for to do nothing about the passenger activity forecasts. However, Porter’s weakening numbers came out in April 2013 and the airport’s flatlined passenger figures were published on June 24, 2013. In effect, PortsToronto had almost six months to advise its consultants that the 2012 data had been superseded.

The June 2012 Airport Master Plan July 2014 Version

On December 1, 2014 PortsToronto released what it called an updated version of the Master Plan. Section 4.6 PASSENGER ACTIVITY FORECASTS was identical, including a thrice repeated error: reference to Figure 4-11 as Figure 11 in the text.

The July 2014 version contained the same outdated assumptions. However, by then, PortsToronto had over a year to adjust the data. As indicated above, PortsToronto 2013 management discussion and analysis contained passenger numbers.

Passengers using the Toronto as an origin or destination point

  • 2012 – 1,909,360
  • 2013 – 1,911,632
  • Passenger increase – 1,772
  • Percentage increase – .09%

Totals including connecting passengers

  • 2012 – 2,291,570
  • 2013 – 2,294,422
  • Passenger increase – 2,852
  • Percentage increase – .13%

In both cases year-over-year increases were under 1%.

The U.S. data fared somewhat better. However, the year-over-year load factor increases for the first nine months (excluding April) 2012 to 2014 fall far short of the assumed 13% Porter Airlines growth and the 4.5% Pearson growth and as the total airport passenger figures below seem to indicate saved the airport from a decline in passenger numbers.

  • 2012 to 2013 – 2.46% increase
  • 2013 to 2014 – 2.88% increase

The Value of the Airport Master Plan July 2014 Version

Sometime in the mid to late 60s, the computer world coined the word gigo, garbage in, garbage out. It meant that faulty data produced faulty results. This certainly seems the case with Master Plan Section 4.6 PASSENGER ACTIVITY FORECASTS.

There are two possibilities for the situation: through incompetence or by design.

It is difficult to understand how an organization like PortsToronto which prides itself on its accomplishments such as building a tunnel which was slated to open August 2014 can overlook its own data that might prejudice its argument for airport expansion. These are important numbers for an outfit wants to “Do No Harm”. After all, why go through the trouble and expense of expanding runways and threatening people’s enjoyment of the waterfront if the passenger numbers don’t warrant it?

It is equally difficult to understand how an organization that prides itself as a member of the community would purposely mislead city council in pursuing an objective, airport expansion, about which it claims neutrality. In so doing, it could face the Toronto Medical Officer of Health’s concern over the well-being of the very children whose programs it has given money to support. The implied hypocrisy is simply unthinkable.

How, then, may we account for the example of seemingly shoddy efforts put into forecasting passenger activity?

At this stage, as unqualified critics we can only postulate. However, we can hope that the city has experts who can carefully examine PortsToronto’s claims made through the Master Plan exercise, especially if the results claim the operations resulting from the expanded runways pose no danger.

We can also ask why PortsToronto didn’t update passenger activity forecast figures when it had ample time to do so.

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