The New Island Airport Master Plan:  What to Look – and Ask – For

By Monday, February 5, 2018 0 No tags Permalink 15


We’re not quite sure what Ports Toronto will put forward at the community meeting to be held next Wednesday. We do know what they put into the last Master Plan, and have a pretty good idea of the issues that won’t be dealt with – ones Ports Toronto would very much prefer to avoid.

So we thought a Guide might be helpful – what to look for, and what to ask about.

Let’s see how much they actually listen to us!

1.              The Last Master Plan

Here’s a link to their last Master Plan. It’s more like a litany of impediments to expansion that is well worth referring to this time round. We suspect they’ve addressed very few of them.

While it was prepared in 2012, no one saw it until the City forced Ports Toronto to reveal it early in 2014.

On its release, we wrote a five-page critique that we think  is worth reading. We said then:

Reviewing it, one appreciates why Ports Toronto was so unwilling to share it with the City – it corroborates the City’s consultants’ analyses[1] that there are a host of serious issues that constrain the expansion of the Island Airport

How does this Master Plan address the host of serious issues the last Plan identified, but did not solve?

2.              Emergency Access

Missing from the last Plan, and unlikely to appear in this one, is the extreme difficulty getting emergency vehicles to the Island Airport in the event of an emergency, as identified by Ports Toronto’s then-CEO Lisa Raitt, in a press release on October 16, 2003:

“The [bridge to the Island Airport] is a public safety issue. The need for a bridge to get emergency equipment to the airport quickly was identified by an intergovernmental committee almost 10 years ago.” said Ms. Raitt. “In the event of an emergency, it could take up to two hours to get the appropriate equipment over to the island and that’s not acceptable.”

Her statement is based upon this 1993 Report that Ports Toronto has never chosen to update. How do we know that? We submitted a Freedom-of-Information request that confirmed that.

It therefore stands as the definitive word on emergency access issues.

How does the new Master Plan address this too‑apparent lack of concern for the safety of airport passengers in the event of an emergency?

3.              De‑icing Fluid

The last Master Plan said this:

Given the tight physical constraints of the airport, particularly in the vicinity of the terminal building, there is no opportunity to provide a centralized de-icing facility

What happens to de‑icing fluid now?

It is simply dumped into the City’s sanitary sewer system.

That’s contrary to the Tripartite Agreement[2] , governing the Airport, which states

The Lessee shall not discharge, cause or permit to be discharged or howsoever to pass into the sewer systems, storm drains or surface drainage facilities at the demised premises, if any, or elsewhere any noxious, contaminated or poisonous substances…”

De‑icing fluid certainly fits within that prohibition.

Will this Master Plan find a solution the last one couldn’t?

4.              Landside elements are “extremely physically constrained”

That’s a quote from the last Master Plan. That is not news to anyone living on Bathurst Quay.

Here is what the last Plan said:

There is a need to develop a long-term solution to the landside constraints.

For this reason, it is imperative that a complete review and comprehensive study be undertaken to specifically address the landside system. Participants of this study must include Ports Toronto, City of Toronto, airport tenants and surrounding residential groups.

The success of this study will be dependent on finding efficient and effective solutions for connecting and integrating the landside system with the City of Toronto roadway and public transportation system

Ports Toronto was told this by their consultants in 2012.

Has any such long-term solution been developed? We’re certainly not aware of any.

What have they done to address these extreme constraints over the last six years?

Is there anything in the new Plan?

5.              Forecasts for Future Passenger Traffic

Forecasts for future aviation growth are often rosy, as this makes clear:

The last Plan said this:

Under the current flight schedules, Porter Airlines and Air Canada Express operate approximately 65,416 flights a year. With an average load factor of 79% [as historically achieved by Air Canada and WestJet] there would be approximate 3,600,000 annual passengers [our emphasis]

Porter has never been able to sell much more than 60% of its seats[3].

And there has been no material growth in the number of passengers over the past five years.

Using numbers provided by Ports Toronto, 2014 was the Airport’s peak year, at 1,996,494 (excluding connecting passengers). The number of passengers through the Airport in the three previous years were just over 1.9M in each year.

Ports Toronto chose not to provide  numbers for 2016 – but extrapolating from other data, we can say that, over the five years from 2012 to 2016 inclusive, the number of passengers at the Island Airport increased by about 8.2% ,or 1.6% on average each year.

Pearson over the same period saw an increase in passengers of 27%.

Hasn’t Porter’s growth long since peaked?

What projections for growth appear in this year’s Master Plan? Are they realistic?

If Bathurst Quay is already struggling with traffic volumes for the current passenger numbers, how can any increase possibly be coped with?

6.              What Happens on June 30, 2033?

The rent‑free lease from the City (the Tripartite Agreement) for a good portion of the Airport lands expires on that date.

There is no right of renewal. Without a renewal, the Island Airport cannot operate.

It is only fifteen years away. What happens then?

Will the City simply renew the lease?

Or, will citizens and the City take the opportunity to fairly and comprehensively consider other uses far more compatible with our Waterfront then the Airport?

We think the City would be wise to do so, and soon. And we think the Master Plan needs to contemplate those alternative uses now.

What does the Master Plan have to say about June 30, 2033?

The last Plan said nothing.

7.              Climate Change

We read a story this week, titled: “Do We Really Need to Fly?”: Meet the Climate Scientists Walking Their Talk. Here are some excerpts:

In 2010, atmospheric scientist Peter Kalmus  quantified his own carbon emissions and realized they were dominated by flying: More than three-quarters of his emissions were from flying. So, over the next two years he made an effort to fly less and began to think of his airplane trips within the context of a warming planet.

“In 2012, I was sitting on a plane — the last flight I’ve taken — and I had this strong, visceral sense that I didn’t belong there, that I didn’t want to continue being part of the problem,” Kalmus said. “Flying felt like a sort of taking from my children. It wasn’t guilt; it was clarity.”

“We need to get to a point where burning fossil fuel is no longer socially acceptable,” he said. “I know we’ll get there, I’m pretty sure I’m on the right side of history here, but the question is how long will it take? Time isn’t on our side.”

He has not flown again.

And now Kalmus is not alone. He has been joined by a growing number of environmental scientists and academics who are committing to fly less or not at all.

More and more of us, recognizing the urgent and existential challenge of climate change, are choosing to reduce or stop flying.

Our governments have committed to keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5ºC. That commitment requires an extreme reduction of our consumption of fossil fuels, and that means a extreme reduction in the amount of flying we do[4].

What does the Master Plan say about the Airport’s future in the face of climate change action?

The last one said nothing.

Isn’t it time that this one does?


February, 2018


[1] In response to Porter’s request to introduce jets to the Island Airport, the City obtained reports on many issues. They are all posted here on the City’s website

[2] The Tripartite Agreement is, essentially, a lease between the City of Toronto and the Toronto Port Authority for a large portion of the Island Airport lands. Signed in 1983, it is the only source of constraints on the Island Airport’s operations for the protection of Toronto’s waterfront. One of those constraints is the prohibition of jets. To date it has been enforced. Many of those constraints have not.

[3] Load factors ‑ the percentage of seats filled by paying passengers – as reported by Porter Airlines (Porter ceased to report in April, 2013, as its growth came to an end):

[4] A report in Nature concludes that meeting a modest target of restraining global warming to two degrees Celsius requires the curtailing of coal, oil and gas burning to the extent that 82 per cent of current re-known global reserves must stay in the ground. Acknowledging that, the Governor of the Bank of England has expressed concern that necessary action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions will lead to stranded fossil fuel assets:

As part of my opening remarks at a World Bank seminar on Integrated Reporting, I made reference to analysis suggesting that the majority of proven coal, oil and gas reserves may be considered ‘unburnable’ if global temperatures increases are to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius. I also referenced, on the basis of this analysis, how this may lead to ‘stranded carbon’.


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