City Council to Debate Island Airport Expansion Within Weeks
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City Council to Debate Island Airport Expansion Within Weeks

Mayor Rob Ford wants to reopen the legal agreement that governs Billy Bishop to let Porter fly jets off extended runways there.

At the request of Mayor Rob Ford, council’s executive committee is asking City staff to put together a report on loosening the regulations that govern the Toronto Island Airport. Ford made this request in light of Porter Airlines’ recently announced expansion proposal, which would see them extend the runway, fly small jets out of Billy Bishop, and substantially increase the number of destinations on their roster—an expansion proposal the mayor strongly endorses.

The hitch: because the request for that report needs to go before city council for approval, if enough councillors decide they just aren’t interested in an airport expansion, they can kill the issue entirely by voting against the report.

Ford’s motion came on the heels of a letter he received from Porter’s president, Robert Deluce [PDF]. In it, Deluce explains that he is asking all the signatories of the Tripartite Agreement—the legal document which sets out the rules for Billy Bishop—to reopen that agreement and allow certain commercial jets to fly out of the airport (currently all are prohibited), and also to authorize extensions of 168 metres at both ends of the main runway. “Our track record is proven as a responsible and responsive airline operator, and as a good neighbour,” writes Deluce. “It’s time to take the next step.”

Deluce’s letter also includes a specific timeline: “To ensure the parties have sufficient time to finalize the amendment to the Tripartite Agreement,” he writes, “we require the City of Toronto’s approval in July 2013.” That timeline was included in Ford’s motion, which asks City staff to report back on the implications of expanding the island airport by July 3, 2013.


Porter’s Major Expansion Proposal

Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) represents the ward which includes the island airport. He is adamantly opposed to its expansion, telling reporters after the vote: “This council has made a solemn promise to the residents of the waterfront… There are lots of ways to get to New York City. There is only one Lake Ontario.” He also condemned the mayor for bringing this report request at all, saying that it amounted to Ford doing Porter’s business planning for them: “If [Deluce] has a proposal to bring before the Port Authority, let him do the work.”

All three signatories to the agreement—the City of Toronto, the federal government, and the Toronto Port Authority—will need to consent to any changes. When Porter first made its proposal public many councillors immediately raised concerns about the the prospect of increased traffic to the downtown airport (both on the ground and in the air); several are also worried about noise issues. Porter maintains the planes in question (which it has dubbed “whisper” jets) would comply with current noise regulations, and are comparable to the turboprops it uses already. The jet, a new model being developed by Bombardier, is scheduled for its first test flight by the end of June; nobody will be able to independently verify claims about its noise levels or other operational features until then.

Because this report will involve outside experts and technical analysis, the City manager estimated it would cost more than $200,000 to produce. The intention is to ask Porter to reimburse the municipal government for the cost of the study—that too will come before council for a vote.

City council next meets on May 7-8; this item is now expected to be on their agenda at that meeting.