With a new federal government, local Etobicoke residents would like to see changes in the number of night flights at Pearson.
Between midnight and 6:30 a.m., most Toronto residents are sound asleep. That isn’t so easy for homeowners near Pearson International Airport, where an average of 39 flights fly in and out within these six-and-a-half hours.
The Markland Wood Homeowners’ Association has lobbied to limit night flights at Pearson for over 10 years, to little avail. Members of the group’s airport committee are frustrated with the lack of cooperation between the government and public interest groups.
In 1997, Transport Canada established a cap of 16 flights per night. In 2013, despite efforts by concerned residents and homeowners’ groups, Transport Canada approved the airport’s request to increase night flights.
The fight goes on.
While only 5 per cent of the Markland Wood neighbourhood is affected by the noise, airport committee member Roma Donatelli says they are fighting night flights on principle.
“It’s not because we’re losing more sleep than anyone else,” Donatelli told Torontoist. “It’s that big business will do whatever they want, whenever they want, with total disregard to the negative effects that it’s causing.”
The “big business” in this case is represented by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, responsible for Pearson’s management and operations.
The airport attempts to address noise concerns through its Community Environment and Noise Advisory Committee. Comprised of elected representatives and residents from surrounding neighbourhoods, the group monitors noise complaints and meets four or five times a year.
Etobicoke Councillor Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) is a member of this committee, which he says “doesn’t have any authority” to act on the issue.
“We get to bring our concerns forward, but we can only advise on the concerns,” Holyday said. “It’s up to the government to make the policy change.”
Saulius Brikis, Markland Wood airport committee member, says the group has met MPs and ministers over the years, including previous transport minister Lisa Raitt. Brikis says Raitt recognized the noise complaint process was flawed when she realized registered complaints were monitored, but then gathered dust in offices.
“She encouraged greater consultation with neighbourhood groups,” Brikis said.
Ultimately NAV Canada, the entity that dictates airline traffic, doesn’t answer to the transport minister.
Airline captain David Inch submitted a report [PDF] to NAV Canada a year ago, outlining a strategy for decreasing noise and saving fuel on arrivals. “They’ve paid lip service up to this point,” Inch said. “NAV Canada is an independent corporation that was intentionally removed from government influence. You don’t want politics to interfere with safety. But in my opinion, there should be some accountability. There’s no mention of noise in their mandate.”
Inch says if the legislation is changed, then NAV Canada would be forced to change their operations, but the commitment from ministers hasn’t translated to political action. Markland Wood residents say they think this stems from the previous government’s priorities.
“The Greater Toronto Airports Authority is paid for each airplane that lands,” Donatelli said, adding that some individuals put the corporate interest ahead of the public interest.
Councillor Holyday doesn’t see it that way. The airport has landing fees, but Holyday says this doesn’t mean corporations are gaining something that citizens are not.
“The airport itself is not a for-profit enterprise,” Holyday said. “It’s not there to make money by having as many flights as possible. It’s still, for better or worse, a public institution.”
The airport gets paid for planes that land, but the money “is not going into a private person’s pocket, it’s going back into the airport,” Holyday said.
Lorrie McKee, of the airport’s Community Environment and Noise Advisory Committee, says night flights serve the public interest.
“There’s increasingly a demand for flights into the night time hours for business and tourism, visiting friends and family,” McKee said.
Flights between midnight and 6:30 a.m. are 3 per cent of the airport’s total operations.
“It’s always a balance. We’re operating an airport that has a huge role in supporting the economy,” McKee said. “At the same time we have an environment with neighbours.”
So far, the balance hasn’t work in favour of the Markland Wood Homeowners’ Association.
“There has to be a change in government in order for local citizens to get relief from the night flights,” Brikis said before the federal election on October 19.
With a Liberal majority government, Markland Wood is hopeful their newly elected MP, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, will bring this issue to the forefront in parliament. During his previous tenure in office, Wrzesnewskyj brought up three motions to ban night flights at Pearson.