Jets at the Island Airport

Porter Flight Path

On April 10, 2013, Robert Deluce, the CEO of Porter Airlines, held a press conference to announce that he wanted to bring jets to the Island Airport. This was the latest in the long series of proposals to turn the Island into a major airport bringing noise, pollution, traffic chaos and turning the Waterfront and the central city into an industrial wasteland.

Porter had made a conditional offer to buy 12 Bombardier CS100 Series jets with an option for another 18. The deal was conditional on Porter getting permission to use the jets at the Island Airport (the Billy Bishop City Centre Airport).

In order to get permission, Porter requested the amendment of the Tripartite Agreement that governs the Island Airport. That meant the federal government (Transport Canada), the Toronto Port Authority, and the City of Toronto would all have to agree to amend the agreement to allow jets to fly out of the Island Airport.

In order to turn the Island Airport into a jet facility it will have to go through a major expansion. Initially Deluce said that the east-west runway will have to be lengthened 168 metres at each end of the runway to allow the jets to land and take-off safely. Later he said they would have to be lengthened 200 metres at each end. This will be a dramatic expansion of the physical size of the airport—well over the length of four football fields. The runways will take up much of the west end of the harbour and extend well out into Humber Bay. The keep-away buoys will also have to be moved. All of this will restrict sailing in the harbour and Lake Ontario, and access through the Western Gap.

Porter also asked for more slots at the Island Airport. That means more take-offs and landings and more passengers. In turn, that will lead to more ground traffic and congestion for the people in Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood and more noise and pollution for the Waterfront and the city.

This announcement created a firestorm of controversy. The most important immediate problem was the issue of noise. Deluce claimed that the CSeries jets will be quiet, but he was careful to say it does not mean they are quieter than the Q400, the plane Porter currently flies out of the Island. The noise from the Q400 is already a problem for many who live along the Waterfront, and it is unbearable for many of the residents of Bathurst Quay.

Airports attract lots of traffic because people expect to drive or take taxis to the terminal. The Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood and Queen’s Quay West are residential communities. More people are moving into the area in the condos west of Bathurst Street. Already this has put a strain on city services and the schools in the area. The traffic is bringing additional pollution and safety concerns as taxis rush down Bathurst Street/Eireann Quay to the airport’s city‑side terminal. There have been collisions between taxis and cyclists. Fortunately, to date, none involving pedestrians.

Central to the question of expanding the airport are issues such as recreation, economic development and the quality of life for everyone in the city. Toronto Harbour, the Islands and Lake Ontario are major recreational resources used by millions. The Waterfront now attracts 17 million people annually and is being transformed into a residential community, the workplace of thousands of people, and home to scores of businesses. All of this is threatened by an expanded Island Airport.

The controversy spilled into many different areas.

  • Why should the City of Toronto turn over much of its Waterfront, harbour, lake and Islands to an airport and give it to one airline entrepreneur, Robert Deluce?
  • Porter and the Toronto Port Authority said in the past that they had no intension of flying jets out of the Island Airport. Now they have completely reversed themselves. Could their intensions ever be believed in the future?
  • Why was Porter making this proposal? The Toronto Port Authority is the operator of the Billy Bishop Airport, but it was Porter who made this proposal, not the TPA. Later it was learned that the Port Authority did not even know that Porter was going to make this proposal. They were blindsided, just like the public. Who is in charge of this publicly owned airport, the public or one airline businessman?
  • There was a concern that allowing jets at the Island Airport will mean not only the CSeries jets, but all makes and types of jets will be allowed. That means loud executive jets, big commercial passenger jets—jets of every type of make will be allowed to take-off and land at the Island. Once the runways are lengthened it will be very hard to keep all or any jets out.
  • Many pointed out that in the summer of 2015 the fixed rail link between Union Station and Pearson was opened. That ends the argument that the Island Airport is necessary for the convenience of the business sector.
  • If Porter relocated to Pearson, where jets are already allowed, it would eliminate the threat to the Waterfront. That would save hundreds of millions of dollars, money other higher‑priority public infrastructure projects in Toronto could use.
  • The issue of the financial viability of Porter just will not go away. Evidence continues to mount that Porter has never made a profit despite the claims of Deluce. (Porter is a private company and they are not required to publish financials.) The recent sale of the Airport’s terminal by Porter, suggests that the company has serious cash flow problems.
  • In recent years it has become clear that the number of passengers carried by Porter have plateaued. Air Canada and West Jet are reorganizing their companies to offer low cost service. All of this will seriously affect the financial viability of the airline and could lead to it suddenly shutting down. All of that infrastructure investment would be lost.
  • Did Robert Deluce float the idea of jets in a desperate measure to save his company?

When the issue came to City Council, the Executive Committee directed the staff to write a report on the proposal. That report became a key document in the subsequent debate. Initially staff recommended that the request was too premature. There were too many questions and issues that could not be answered. Staff recommended that the decision should be put off until March 2015, but under pressure staff agreed that the issue should go forward to City Council.

As the date of the council meeting drew close other political bodies examined the issue. The board of Waterfront Toronto had refused to get involved in Island Airport issues in the past, but the jet proposal was too much. They voted against with only one board member in favour of the Porter expansion plans. The Toronto Board of Health was even clearer. They cited the threat of increased air pollution as a real concern and voted unanimously against the jet proposal.

The Executive Committee held public hearings on the proposal and over 165 people and organizations asked to be deputants and 85 were heard. The deputations were overwhelmingly opposed to jets and expansion. Deluce and Porter executives had worked hard to recruit those few people who spoke favorably about the project. Most of those supporters, it turned out, were Porter employees.

The decision of council in April, 2014 was somewhat ambiguous. It did not reject the proposal outright but said that the Toronto Port Authority would have to resolve a host of neighbourhood issues before it would even be considered. Traffic was a problem. Later it was estimated that it would cost at least $100 million to resolve the traffic problems. Others said $300 million and still others felt there were no resolutions that would work. The city sought caps on the number of flights as a precondition for any consideration of jets.

Another serious concern is that the tests of the CS100 were not complete at the time of the vote. Only after all of the technical data is analyzed will the noise parameters of the aircraft be known.

Since the April, 2014 City Council meeting there have been other developments. The Port Authority sought to satisfy the City by hiring consultants to write and publish reports before taking the proposal back to city council. These reports would be like an Environmental Assessment, although they were not required to conduct an E.A.

CommunityAIR and NoJetsTO, both community groups who oppose airport expansion, have continued their opposition. They argue that if Porter’s proposed amendments are passed by Toronto City Council, we will see a quantum leap in the size and operations of the Island Airport. There will be jets, the runways will be lengthened by filling the harbour and lake, the number of flights will increase dramatically and the traffic, pollution and everything else that a major airport brings will literally be on the city’s doorstep. The city’s most precious resources and development opportunity, the Waterfront, the Harbour, the Islands and Lake Ontario will be threatened by a noisy, polluting airport.

There has been one other significant development. Adam Vaughan, the one-time Toronto City Councillor, and now the Liberal Member of Parliament for Fort York, Spadina, has confirmed that the new Liberal government, elected on October 19, 2015, will not open the Tripartite Agreement to allow jets. For the proposal to go ahead it needs unanimous agreement of the three signatories of the agreement. With the federal government saying they would not permit the agreement to be opened for jets, it means the Porter jet proposal is good and finally dead.

The Toronto Port Authority, or Ports Toronto as they now call themselves, have said that they will continue with their studies. CommunityAIR has demanded that they stop immediately. Adam Vaughan remains firm that the Tripartite Agreement will not be opened.

Finally on Monday November 2, Daniel Lauzon, a spokesman for Justine Trudeau and the incoming Liberal government confirmed in Ottawa that the Canadian government would not open the Tripartite Agreement to allow jets. This has been widely reported in the media.

But is the jet proposal dead? Robert Deluce is saying that the Port Authority should finish their studies. He also is mobilizing support for it to go to City Council. The government of Canada has been clear. The jet proposal will not go ahead. If council debates the issue and votes to allow jets, it will be seen as an effort to embarrass the Trudeau government and nothing more.

This is the time to mobilize opposition to the expansion of the Island Airport. If you care about Lake Ontario, Toronto Harbour, the Islands, the Waterfront and the city, now is the time to convince your family, friends, workmates, neighbours and particularly your local politicians that the expansion will cause irreparable harm to all we love about Toronto. The Porter jet proposal must be cancelled.

CommunityAIR, November, 2015

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