Porter Airlines now has twenty-six Q400 aircraft. On April 9, 2013 the company placed a conditional order for 12 Bombardier CS100 Series jets with an option for another 18. If approved, jets will be operating out of the Island Airport by 2016.
The Q400 is a very large airplane and CS100 jet aircraft are much larger, heavier and carry more passengers. At the Island Airport there are a number of small, private planes. Medevac planes and helicopters also use the airport. This is a huge mix of different types of aircraft with different levels of skills of the pilots. As Porter Airlines multiplies its number of flights at its island airport hub, the airport will become a very dangerous place.
Not only will there be increased safety problems with the increase in traffic, there are also a number of other potential safety problems at the airport.
In 2003 the then CEO of the TPA, Lisa Raitt, wrote a letter to Toronto City Council saying that the bridge to the Island Airport across the Western Gap was essential to move emergency equipment to the Island in case of a catastrophic accident. The bridge was not built and yet Porter Airlines was allowed to establish a busy commercial airline on the Island. Is the airport safe? The TPA says yes, but Raitt’s letter suggests otherwise.
There are three runways at the Island Airport but only the east west runway is long enough to handle the Q400. It is 1,220 metres in length. There are different opinions about the length of the runway needed for the Q400 aircraft. Some experts claim 1400 metres are required. Other claim 1741 metres are essential. All experts believe that the runway at the Island is too short and the safety stopways at the end of the runways are inadequate. To compensate, and lighten the load, the Porter planes have had some of the seats removed. They have 74 seats rather than the usual 78.
Lengthening the runways at the Island for safety reasons will be required if the use of jets is approved. The present plan is to lengthen the east west runway by 200 meters at both ends. That raises other concerns. Jet blasts from the engines will be a safety hazard for small boats. There is speculation that kayaks and canoes may be too dangerous to use with all of the jet turbulence in the inner harbour. Sailboats will have a very narrow passage between the end of the runway and Ontario Place.
The Pilot’s Handbook for the Island Airport lists the following hazards:
- Two stacks: Hearn Power Station and Leslie Street incinerator,
- Wind turbine at the CNE grounds
- Vessels with 120 foot masts
- Flagpole at Confederation Park
- Tall buildings on Fleet Street and Railway Lands
Approximately 100,000 waterfowl make their nests on the Toronto Islands and the Leslie Street Spit. These gulls, geese and ducks are large birds that can do serious damage to aircraft and their engines. The Porter Q400 planes have been involved in a number of bird strikes, but fortunately there has been no serious damage to date.
If permission is given to fly the CS100 jets out of the Island Airport, the safety risk will be considerably higher. The air intake on these jet engines is six feet in diameter and the jets suck in the air to propel the aircraft. This will increase the likelihood that bird will be sucked into the engine and cause serious damage.
The Island Airport is on Lake Ontario and subject to extremes of weather conditions that can be hazardous to aircraft. This includes fog in spring and fall, intense cross winds in winter and extreme air turbulence from thunderstorms in the summer.