Big cities are closing their small airports

In Toronto some assume that, because the Island Airport (Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport) exists, it should be expanded by lengthen the runways to allow jets. But expanding small airports is not what is happening in other North American cities.

Meigs Field. The X marks were created by bulldozers to stop flights.

Meigs Field. The X marks were created by bulldozers to stop flights.

On March 31, 2003 Chicago Mayor Richard Daley suddenly closed Meigs Field, one of the most famous airports in the United States. He did it in dramatic fashion by bulldozers carving up the runways in the middle of the night. There was an outcry, of course, but this airport was causing havoc and problems to many. After the brief controversy the airport closed and has been lamented by few.

Now there is talk about closing La Guardia, the second largest airport in New York City. This is a New York Times article about the controversy:

La Guardia

La Guardia

What is remarkable is that the arguments that are being made to close La Guardia are almost identical to the arguments that CommunityAIR has been making about the Island Airport.

  • Throwing more money at the airport “won’t change its fundamental problems,” says the New York Times. (Also true for the Island Airport)
  • The runways are “surrounded on three sides by water, making landing difficult and hazardous.” (This is true at the Island Airport and there are other dangers like tall buildings and bird strikes.)
  • “Parking is a nightmare.” (There is virtually no parking at the Island Airport and traffic is causing serious congestion, safety and air pollution problems.)
  • Some “30,000 people who live near La Guardia are subjected to a level of noise higher than the standard deemed acceptable by the Federal Aviation Administration.” (Noise of take-offs and landings is a huge problem for the people living in Bathurst Quay, Queen’s Quay and there are complaints from some people living as far north as Queen’s Street, the Beaches in the east and Lakeshore West.)
  • “Most flights serving La Guardia already duplicate flights serving Kennedy and Newark.” (Flights out of Pearson go to every destination served by Porter and Air Canada flying out of the Island Airport.)
  • The New York Times article argues that money devoted to upgrading La Guardia would be better spent by building a high speed link between Kennedy and Manhattan. (The Ontario government will soon open a high speed rail link between Pearson and Union Station, the UP Express, at a cost of $456 million.)
  • And finally the article points out that the La Guardia land could be used to provide much needed affordable housing for the city. (CommunityAIR has pointed out that the Island Airport land could be used to extend the Island Park, provide affordable housing and other public buildings like a university or community college campus. This would bring in far more revenue to the city in property taxes than the airport.)

No one can argue that people in New York City or Chicago are backward economically and thwart technological innovations. They have built thriving, progressive cities. We can and must do the same.

The new consensus is that airports need to be consolidated and rationalized to conserve scarce public dollars. At the same time we can provide excellent services to the flying customer by concentrating commercial airline flights at large airports like Pearson.

It is time to close the Island Airport with all of its noise, pollution and traffic congestion, and convert its land into something spectacular and economically productive for the City of Toronto.

Bill Freeman

Comments are closed.