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Report: Porter’s Request to Expand the Island Airport Is “Premature”

Toronto's top civil servant says we don't have enough information to make a decision on Porter's expansion plan yet.

For the past few months the municipal government has been exploring the implications of expanding the Billy Bishop island airport, at the request of Porter Airlines. The raccoon-loving regional carrier, which right now goes to 18 destinations relatively close to Toronto, wants to start flying further afield, to the west coast and Caribbean. In order to do that it needs to start flying jets, and in order to do that, it needs to either lengthen the runways at the island or find a second home at Pearson. Porter’s been interested in the first of those options, and has been lobbying City Hall to reopen the agreement governing Billy Bishop, to permit the expansion.

City staff have now filed their first big report on the matter, and the news isn’t good for Porter. While the city manager is recommending that Toronto initiate a broad discussion about the future of Billy Bishop airport, when it comes to Porter’s expansion plan specifically: “approval of this request is premature.”

From the outset some councillors, including local representative Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) had concerns—about noise, waterfront activity, and prioritizing a private company’s economic growth over the area’s residents. Rob Ford was a huge proponent, and for a time it seemed like some councillors were coming around: an initial spurt of negative comments was quickly replaced by “let’s wait and see.”

The city manager’s report was one of the big things they were waiting for. Here are its key findings:

  • The Toronto Port Authority hasn’t yet submitted its report on the expansion plan, and as a result Transport Canada has not yet been able to comment on its feasibility;
  • Data from preliminary tests of Bombardier’s CS-100 jets, the brand new model Porter wants to fly out of the island, “is insufficient” to determine whether the planes comply with existing noise regulations;
  • The relevant stakeholders (Porter, Transport Canada, the port authority, and others) haven’t had a chance to respond to issues raised by the public and by outside consultants in the course of the City’s examination of the issue; and
  • More broadly, “there is not a clear direction or plan for airport expansion.”

What the city manager is recommending is that everyone involved launch a process that is less reactive—not driven exclusively by Porter’s request, but a from-the-ground-up assessment of the airport and its role in the city. Any such discussions, he advises, should be predicated on a shared commitment to “measures to improve the existing conditions around the airport related to aircraft noise, airport and ferry operations, traffic congestion, conflicts with the Waterfront and City Schools and the Harbourfront Community Centre, construction management, taxi management, and public realm improvements.”

If adopted, the staff recommendations will turn this into an election issue. The timeline they propose includes a broad series of consultations that would take place in the coming months, with staff reporting back to summarize those consultations and offer a draft new master plan for the airport in March, 2015. (Toronto’s next election is October 27, 2014.) Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough Agincourt) wants council to approve the expansion plan without delay, despite the staff report, precisely because of this: he told the Globe that the next municipal administration “may be the very same people that opposed the island airport in the first place. If that’s the case, then I think the city will have lost a marvelous opportunity to grow an asset.”

The City staff report on Porter’s proposal will go to city council’s executive committee on December 5. Whatever the executive decides on at that meeting will come as a recommendation to the next full meeting of council on December 16-17.


  • OpportKnocks

    I think this is the best we could hope for from the current dysfunction at Toronto City Hall.

    My faith in the ability of the Toronto civil service to speak truth to power is (temporarily) restored.

    If council still wishes to overturn the staff recommendation, they should have the brains and balls to make this an election issue in the 2014 campaign. The last thing we need is for a pro-Porter council decision to be overturned by the next council, then Deluce/Porter sues and gets another unjustified $20,000,000 windfall.

  • rich1299

    Its rather telling that Kelly is pushing for city council to approve this now since those opposing the airport expansion may win even more votes in the next election. If more people who are opposed to turning our central waterfront into a mini-Pearson get elected in the next election then the will of the people has spoken and our democracy has worked.

    Rushing into this without even the basic studies and reports required to make an informed decision is very bad decision making.

    • Paul Kishimoto

      If councillors who are in support of a minor expansion meeting existing environmental standards get elected in the next election, then the will of the people will have spoken and our democracy will have worked.

      That Kelly is in a hurry doesn’t imply his expectations are correct. Who aside from Adam Vaughan has rushed into a decision to oppose?

  • Bev Dywan

    Given that the recommendation is against going forward, the Toronto Port Authority should back this up, on matters of safety alone.

    • Guest

      The Toronto Port Authority should pay their tax bill.

  • picard102

    How does the Airport rail link diminish the need for Billy Bishop? Do you think people are only using Porter because they can’t figure out how to get to Pearson? Do you think those people will pay $30 each way to go on a train to Pearson instead of Billy Bishop?

    • CrackSmokinConservativeValues

      Do you think city council should be subsidizing private air travel to Montego Bay?

      • picard102

        I’d rather they fund Unicorns for every home. I mean, as long as we’re making shit up.

        • CrackSmokinConservativeValues

          What destinations do you think these planes will be traveling to? A good number of them are going to the Caribbean. The Caribbean, generally speaking, is more of a tourist destination than a business destination for Canadians. If you fail to see how that is subsidizing people’s vacations then you fail to comprehend logic or you’re burying your head where the sun doesn’t shine.

          • picard102

            Show me where they are subsidizing these new routes in the budget.

          • CrackSmokinConservativeValues

            That’s first order sophistry. Who do you think is paying for infrastructure costs associated with this project? Who is going to be taking the financial risk?

            Recommedation d: d. “there is not a clear direction or plan for airport expansion, what airside and groundside infrastructure requirements are necessary, and how they will be funded; and”

          • picard102

            So you can’t show me that the government is going to pay for this extension and “subsidise” peoples vacations. Sophistry indeed.

          • CrackSmokinConservativeValues

            Continue pretending there won’t be any public money in this and that having public money in this doesn’t constitute subsidizing vacations when there’s probably more money in mass market vacation travel as opposed to specialized business travel

          • picard102

            Continue to make shit up to support your bias, despite what even the report you quoted says. Let’s also ignore the fact that Airport Improvement Fees have been largely responsible for any upgrades to the Airport.

  • picard102

    These newer planes are supposedly more environmentally friendly.

  • Brian Young

    Ford’s inheritor seems to be his chosen acolyte. Kelly is a mini-Ford and not to be trusted.

  • Paul Kishimoto

    What reasons?

    1. Much like the Keystone XL pipeline, it is a non-trivial exercise to determine the effect of infrastructure expansion on emissions. If YTZ were *not* allowed to take additional passengers, but people wanted to fly anyway, then they would go through YYZ. Would that involve more, or fewer, GHG emissions? We don’t know, so no one say whether it “flies in the face of” or “greatly serves” climate goals.

    A sensible approach is to make passengers pay the costs of the GHGs emitted when they fly. This would increase the cost of ALL flights through both YYZ and YTZ—and ideally, even the cost of a gas-burning cab ride to Pearson. If, under such a regime, more people *still* wanted to fly out of YTZ (which seems plausible), there would be absolutely no climate argument for preventing the expansion.

    2. The report you call “good news” points out that impact studies have not been completed. That includes any analysis of how the change might increase, or reduce, or even not affect, water pollution. Acting on *your* ungrounded assumptions about pollution is as irresponsible as acting on unexamined assertions from the proponents of the expansion.

    3. If the noise claims are correct (the report does not reject them, just says they are not yet verifiable), the noise experienced nearby may not change appreciably. Would condo (or other housing) prices respond to changes in actual noise levels? To “perceived” noise levels? To the added convenience of being able to walk to an airport from which you could fly twice as far as you can now on Porter’s current aircraft? We don’t know. Further, I don’t think any argument can be made that changes in prices in just that area could be decisive in the Toronto housing market as a whole.

    The report cautions Council against jumping to positive *or* negative conclusions about the expansion. You’ve done the latter.

  • 4ChanApologist

    As someone who both lives and works downtown, this is saddening. The airport expansion would be a great benefit to tourism and business travel, and shaves off 2 hours sitting in a car to get to the airport.

    • CrackSmokinConservativeValues

      1) Yes, people are going to travel to Toronto just because they can get downtown in 10 minutes instead of 30-45 minutes on the Union Pearson Express.

      2) The ostensible rationale for the expansion has very little to do with “business travel” as you call it. The destinations being proposed are largely tourist destinations.

      • 4ChanApologist

        According to the porterplans website, the potential new routes include business destinations like Vancouver (film+television), Halifax and St.John’s (fisheries), Calgary (petroleum+mining), Winnipeg (telecom), Edmonton (tech), San Francisco (silicon valley), Los Angeles (film+television).

        Speculating on what the proposed pearson express might hopefully-possibly-maybe offer some day, if it’s ever completed, is hardly useful in the current discussion.

        • JGHali

          An interesting comment, inasmuch as I live in St John’s and previously lived in Halifax, and in both cases I have flown Porter to and from YTZ. True, it would certainly be faster without stopping in Ottawa, but pretending this would provide “new” Canadian routes is ridiculous.

  • CrackSmokinConservativeValues

    Is Porter paying the full cost of the extension? We don’t need anymore corporate welfare when we’ve got a perfectly functional airport in Mississauga.

  • eastegg

    The recommendations in the City’s report are totally reasonable. How can this decision be made without considering all the information upfront? We should be thinking more broadly about the role of the island airport in this City, and include the expansion as part of this exercise. I’m also a bit surprised that no formal plan was presented to the City by Porter and the Toronto Port Authority – what is the City supposed to be responding to? How will we know who is paying for what?

    I heard Bob Deluce on Metro Morning today asking that Council approve the plan on a conditional basis. How is the City able to do so without it even being clear on what the conditions would be? It’s not just about the noise of the jets, but the congestion problem around the airport is a huge concern, and I think we need to be aware of all the variables at play before Council can even consider approving this.

  • torontothegreat

    A socialist rag from Winnipeg… Good source! :P