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Billy Bishop, a Canadian pilot who fought in the First World War, already has an airport named after him in his hometown of Owen Sound, Ont., shown at left. A proposal by the Toronto Port Authority would rename that city’s island airport the Billy Bishop Memorial Airport. NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA (National Archives of Canada)
Billy Bishop, a Canadian pilot who fought in the First World War, already has an airport named after him in his hometown of Owen Sound, Ont., shown at left. A proposal by the Toronto Port Authority would rename that city’s island airport the Billy Bishop Memorial Airport. NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA (National Archives of Canada)

Billy Bishop's son on board with airport renaming Add to ...

Owen Sound may not like it, but the proposed renaming of the Toronto City Centre Airport after Canadian fighter pilot Billy Bishop gets full marks from his only son.

Arthur Bishop, a celebrated pilot and military historian who lives in Toronto, welcomed the announcement Thursday by the Toronto Port Authority to rename the airport the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport pending approval by federal and international agencies.

Officials in Owen Sound, hometown of the First World War hero, were miffed to learn of the plan because their regional airport is also named after Bishop. They raised safety concerns about pilots having to distinguish between the two.

But the younger Bishop, a spry 85-year-old with a tongue sharper than cheddar, said there aren't enough monuments to his father, who is credited with downing 72 enemy aircraft over Europe.

"I'm delighted because I've always thought that there should be a monument to my father somewhere," he said, still angry about a 1982 docudrama produced by the National Film Board titled The Kid Who Couldn't Miss, which raised doubts about some of his father's feats.

("Those assholes tried to get the better of him. They're lucky he wasn't alive because he would have beaten the shit out of them.")

Mr. Bishop said his father's name is attached only to a gymnasium in Ottawa, an air command building in Winnipeg and the Owen Sound airport. "It's appropriate, if they're going to have a monument to him, it would be an airport."

(In the north end of Toronto adjacent to Downsview Airport, a street, Billy Bishop Way, is named for him.)

Mark McQueen, chairman of the Toronto Port Authority, said Billy Bishop is a "Canadian hero for the ages" with strong ties to the city. After the war, Bishop helped run a float-plane flight service from Toronto harbour to cottage country and recruited soldiers at the newly built Port George VI Island Airport, which would later become the Toronto City Centre Airport.

"The time seemed ripe to come up with a name that would strike a chord with the travelling public," Mr. McQueen said, noting that this is 100th year of powered flight in Canada.

But critics of the island airport accused the Port Authority of floating the new name as a diversion when hard questions are being asked about expansion plans, increased air traffic, and corporate governance. Councillor Adam Vaughan called the change "ludicrous, a red herring."

Mr. McQueen said Mr. Vaughan "will say anything to get his name in the newspaper. His agenda is clear: He wants to close the airport, even though 500,000 passengers so far this year feel otherwise."

Transport Canada, NAV Canada and the International Air Transport Association must still approve the name change.

Airport director Ken Lundy said the call letters for the two Bishop airports won't change. As well, commercial aircraft don't fly out of Owen Sound. However, the federal government may still say no depending on the outcome of a risk assessment, he said.

Like his father, Arthur Bishop served as a pilot, flying Spitfires for No. 401 Squadron in the Second World War. After the war, he worked as newspaper reporter, an adman and he later set up his own public relations firm. A father of two grown children, he has written dozens of books on military history and was named a Guardian Commander of the Canada Veterans Hall of Valour in 2003.

Asked what it was like to have Billy Bishop for a father, he replied with a laugh, "I'd rather have the money instead.

"He was a great guy. A real swinger before they invented swinging," he said from his room at the Kensington Gardens long-term care centre, where he moved a few months ago and is writing his next book.

"He was a typical fighter pilot: A handsome young guy with a devil-may-care type of [attitude]and wild as hell. Exactly what you'd want a fighter pilot to be."

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