Toronto deputy mayor Norm Kelly says council shouldn't hesitate on moving forward with expanding the Toronto Island airport, despite a staff report that recommends delaying the decision until 2015.
He said if council doesn't act now, it could postpone the expansion for at least a decade, pending the results of next year's municipal election.
"It depends on the makeup of the next administration," he said. "It 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."
Porter Airlines wants to expand its network of routes out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, but needs council’s approval to fly jets and to lengthen the runway into the water at both ends. The regional airline was pushing for a quick decision from the city, but the new report means it may have to wait until after next year’s municipal election for an answer.
"Despite the breadth of consultant studies, there remain outstanding questions," the report reads, pointing to noise levels, infrastructure and a feasibility report from Transport Canada that city staff are still waiting for.
"These outstanding questions undermine the agreed-upon premises for this review, and substantiate that approval of the expansion request is premature."
But Mr. Kelly expressed doubt Mayor Ford could win his bid for re-election and said he is concerned a left-wing administration could take power and quash the airport expansion entirely if council doesn't act now.
"Right now all the polling that's done doesn't indicate the success of that candidacy. It points in the other direction. In anticipation of that I think we've got to bring this issue to the forefront and decide on it."
But other councillors aren't convinced it's a good idea to rush through the process.
“It’s way too complex, way too big and way too complicated. They cannot say yes to it with so many unanswered questions,” said downtown Councillor Adam Vaughan, a long-time critic of the airport.
An interim report released in September advised that Transport Canada does not expect to confirm noise data on the Bombardier CS100 jet aircraft that Porter wants to buy until next May or later. The delay also is linked to the certification of the new aircraft by Transport Canada, according to the report.
Porter Airlines chief executive officer Robert Deluce said council has more than enough information to fully consider the matter now.
“Certain councillors didn’t even want to study the issue in the first place, so there’s no amount of additional time or information that will ever satisfy them,” he said.
“We are still really optimistic that the majority of the executive committee and council will see the proposal’s value for the city and be willing to work toward making it happen in a timely manner,” Mr. Deluce said in an interview Thursday.
Another key issue in the report is the amount of infrastructure needed to support the expansion – roads and transit improvements that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars with no clear means of funding.
The city’s executive committee will consider the staff report next week, with a recommendation going to council in mid-December.
Mr. Deluce said the city already has enough information about the jet’s engine, and doesn’t have to wait for Transport Canada to determine whether the aircraft complies with current noise limits. He also said there is nothing stopping council and the executive committee from making a determination, “based on the merits of the plan.”
He would not say what options Porter is examining for expansion if city council rejects his plan to expand Porter’s flights by using jets to fly passengers from Billy Bishop to Vancouver, the southern United States and other destinations far beyond the range of the Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes that now make up the airline’s fleet.
Porter is seeking to lift the ban on jets flying to the airport or to have a special exception made for the CS100s. Currently, Porter can fly only turboprop planes into the airport, which is governed by a tripartite agreement among the city, the Toronto Port Authority and federal regulators.
Bombardier told Toronto city staff that the manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp., had delivered an engine to a test facility where it could be evaluated. But the city’s aviation consultants advised that this did not conform to international testing standards and that the engine needed to be tested on the aircraft’s frame in flight.
The waterfront airport has long been a political flashpoint for Toronto, with former mayor David Miller coming to office with a pledge to stop a bridge to the island. Porter’s plans to bring jets to the airport have reignited some of the same public opposition. Mayor Rob Ford has been a strong supporter of the airport expansion, but his ability to influence a council vote has diminished since council stripped him of most of his official powers last week.
With a file from Greg Keenan