A previous CommunityAIR (CAIR) post mentioned that PortsToronto (PosTO) chairman Mark McQueen took issue with a NOW story that questioned Billy Bishop Toronto Centre Airport (BBTCA) safety. It appears also that Mr. McQueen took offence with a tweet from CAIR Chairman Brian Iler and blocked him from viewing Mr. McQueen’s posts. What was it that could have possibly upset Chairman McQueen so much so that he would take such severe action?
As Chairman McQueen’s conversation indicates (It is also available here should he put a block on it) he has a problem with NOW’s coverage of the story specifically and NOW’s coverage of PortsToronto in general.
His opening tweet, timed at 2:58 am on February 26, started a bun fight with not only Ben Spurr but also with Senior News Editor Enzo Di Matteo.
At 9:03 am on February 27, Mr. Jim Panou noted on the same thread that the airport ferry ramp was out of commission on February 15.
Some time later on the 27th, Mr. Iler asked,
“Surely airport was shut down? no emergency vehicle access creates unacceptable risk, no?”
and then asked this,
“TPA Chair McQueen: Where’s your report that says standards in 1993 report are met without a bridge?”
That was the end of Mr. Iler’s line of questioning. It was shortly after the second question that Mr. McQueen blocked him. Perhaps Mr. McQueen felt uncomfortable with the bigger picture those questions painted.
A Question of Safety
The BBTCA safety question that CommunityAIR first raised concerned emergency preparedness. A study undertaken in 1993 involving an intergovernmental panel of experts concluded that the only way to provide worst case emergency service at the airport was through vehicular access by bridge.
PortsToronto responded with a refutation of sorts. Gene Cabral PosTO and BBTCA executive VP, in a letter to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport travellers and neighbours, opened his rebuttal with name calling. Of course, Mr. Cabral could not share details of the BBTCA emergency response plan for security reasons. However, he did cite one particular piece of information to assure the readers of BBTCA preparedness.
In addition to the BBTCA’s on-site emergency situation first responders, Mr. Cabral enumerated the available city emergency services and the training exercises they undertake. He drew particular attention to the airport’s proximity to the water and the joint ice and cold water rescue training to practice water-specific rescue operations.
As Mr. Iler’s questions implied the joint ice and cold water emergency response capabilities may not be as effective under certain circumstances as Mr. Cabral would have us believe.
The BBTCA Safety Problem
On February 15, as the Twitter conversation indicated, the BBTCA vehicle ramp was inoperative. Emergency vehicles could not be transported to the airport at that time.
What kind of emergency response in the event of a fully loaded Q400 crashing on or just off the airport could the BBTCA and the city’s first responders mount under these conditions?
The Western Gap was frozen.
Also, as the photo below shows, any Marine Unit rescue craft currently iced in are rendered inoperable in the event of an emergency response situation at BBTCA.
The frozen Marine Unit Basin would mean the only operable Marine Unit rescue vehicle would be the Husky Airboat.
The city ferry, the other boat running to the island all winter, is out of service for the second winter running due to ice damage and so cannot be relied on for emergency purposes.
Under the current weather conditions in the case of a water bound emergency, the only first responders are the Marine Unit iceboat, and the Toronto Fire Services fire boat the William Lyon Mackenzie. How long would crash victims survive in the water before either boat could reach them and how many could the crews realistically save?
As for land rescue, neither of these craft transports vehicles in the case of a crash at the airport itself.
Safety’s Bottom Line
The 1993 emergency response study envisioned a 50-passenger aircraft worst-case scenario. Today’s Q400s fly full with anywhere from 70 to 74 passengers. If PortsToronto can convince city council to allow expansion the airport would see 100 + passenger aircraft: much larger planes carrying much more fuel.
It is inconceivable that PortsToronto and Billy Bishop administrators see no need to include an updated emergency response plan in their current environmental assessment or various other studies underway, given the winter conditions that all parties are currently contending with. It is equally unbelievable that no thought or planning is being given to an operation that will be even more tested with the introduction of jets.
Perhaps what PortsToronto most fears are the conclusions reached by any independent study that considers BBTCA’s physical and operational emergency capabilities in all weather conditions.