By Brian Iler, Chair of CommunityAIR
A poorly-publicized and, consequently, poorly-attended meeting was called by Ports Toronto last night to update the community on its Master Planning process. I felt sorry for all of the “experts” present ‑ four from the city alone, who had very few people to communicate with. This is not new: Ports Toronto never considers what the public interest might be. That seems fundamental for the steward of a very significant public assets.
That’s illustrated by two things we learned last night:
- They are now planning to fill the unused portion of the Island Airport lands on the south side with hangars and tiedowns for private aircraft, and a new refuelling station for them – the 50 or so that currently are based at the Airport, and perhaps another 50, they said, that might be attracted.
We know these aircraft use leaded gasoline. The more of these in our skies, the more lead is spewed into our environment.
These planes are incredibly noisy.
Remember that the City’s lease to Ports Toronto of its Airport lands – the Tripartite Agreement – requires that the airport be used only for general aviation, and from the time of receipt of a request from the Minister, available for limited commercial STOL service operations. Porter and Ports Toronto have ignored that constraint (the Q400 is not STOL, and cannot by any stretch, be classified as general aviation), and the City has failed to enforce it, allowing Porter to squeeze most general aviation out of the Airport – see this compelling affidavit from one of the former tenants of the Airport, for the full story.
Now, they want to go back to serving general aviation.
Given this reversal, could it be that as Porter’s business has flatlined, Ports Toronto feels the need to generate new revenue from, you guessed it, general aviation.
We know, too, that flying a private aircraft is incredibly expensive ‑ it is now the purview of the 1% ‑ think Bob Deluce flying to his Muskoka cottage for the weekend, as he does.
I suggested that, if that unused area is not necessary for current Airport operations, the public interest would best be served by handing it over to the City, for Park purposes.
Of course, they had not even considered that.
- Runway End Safety Areas (RESAs) generate a lot of interest from the community, and it became clear last night that Ports Toronto is fixated on extending the runway at both ends by filling in the Lake to meet the expected Transport Canada requirement for a 150 meter RESAs at each end.
Last night, Ports Toronto told us they rejected the alternative of shortening the runway, because they’d been told by Porter that it would affect their financial viability. They could produce no analysis that they had carried out to verify what Porter had told them, but simply accepted it at face value.
There is a long history here: initially we were surprised that the Q400 was being considered for the Airport, as its manufacturer, Bombardier, stipulated that the minimum runway length required for takeoff was 1,402 metres, with 1,287 metres required for landing. The 08‑26 runway used by Porter is 1,220-metres. Porter squeezes the Q400 into the Airport, it seems, by reducing the number of passengers, and amount of fuel carried. Bombardier then declared that their “500nm version” Q400 would fit.
When writer John Lorinc asked about the Q400 fit back in 2002, he got this:
Facing the most adverse flying conditions — hot summer days with a direct headwind and a full cabin — Deluce figures the planes may have to “take a two-passenger penalty,” i.e., reduce the number of bodies to 66 from 68. “Why would I even think about buying these airplanes if I didn’t think they were suitable for the mission?” he asks.
Since we know that, historically, Porter has flown with a load factor around 60% (the percentage of seats filled by paying passengers), Porter should have no difficulty reducing the number of permitted passengers on the flight to allow the Q400 to use a runway slightly shortened to meet pending RESA requirements.
There is a fair argument to make that Mr. Deluce knew the risks, limitations, and potential for more regulation, when he started his airline at the Airport on October 23, 2006. The Air France Airbus A340-313 aircraft overrun at Pearson Airport had happened on 2 August 2005, triggering calls for longer RESAs and an ultimate recommendation from Canada’s Transport Safety Board:
The Board believes that all such runways could benefit from a RESA built in accordance with the ICAO Annex 14 recommended practice or the FAA’s runway safety area (RSA) standard. This safety action would remove all non-frangible objects and create a surface graded so as to reduce the risk of damage to an aircraft up to a distance 300 m beyond the end of the runway.
The Board is aware that requiring a 300 m RESA may affect many existing Code 4 runways that are located where natural obstacles, local development, and/or environmental constraints make the construction of a RESA of this length impracticable. The Board believes that there exists a requirement for an alternate means of compliance, such as the use of an engineered material arresting system to provide a level of safety that is equivalent to a 300 m RESA.
Therefore, the Board recommends that:
The Department of Transport require all Code 4 runways to have a 300 m runway end safety area (RESA) or a means of stopping aircraft that provides an equivalent level of safety.
13 years after the Air France event, Transport Canada has still failed to act. One might ask why Ports Toronto continues to operate the Airport when its RESAs are so deficient ‑ or why Porter doesn’t move its operations to Pearson, where safety is a much higher priority.
If Ports Toronto is serious about filling in the Lake to me RESA requirements, it will have a battle on its hands. That will focus on the City, as City approval for an amendment to the Tripartite Agreement is necessary. That Agreement prohibits any extension of runways or any expansion beyond the present land area.