Midday at the foot of Spadina Avenue by Lake Ontario: A motorboat sputters by. The noise currents of the Gardiner Expressway waft from behind. And in front, there’s the constant drone of propeller aircraft taking off and landing a few hundred metres across the water at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
Porter Airlines CEO Robert Deluce wants to add jets to the mix by 2016 and lengthen the runway to accommodate them. A proposal to study lifting the current jet ban at the airport is on city council’s agenda next week.
Among those opposing Porter’s plan is a new campaign called No Jets TO, which released a report outlining its opposition at a news conference at City Hall Friday morning.
No Jets TO, which describes itself as a coalition of local groups, says its opposition to Porter’s plans goes beyond noise to include traffic congestion, air quality and the impact an expanded airport would have on waterfront revitalization efforts.
“This is a fight against Robert Deluce’s ambition to bring jets to the island airport and change our city forever,” Anshul Kapoor, a member of No Jets TO, told reporters Friday. “A city is not defined by the convenient way you leave it.”
The question on everyone’s mind is how Porter’s proposals would change the lakeside scene. The Globe and Mail explains what we know so far.
Will Porter pave over Lake Ontario, as Councillor Adam Vaughan warns?
The airline wants to have the island airport runway – currently 1,215 metres long – extended by 336 metres into the water, 168 metres on each end. (In feet, the 4,000-foot runway would be lengthened by 1,000 feet, approximately.) C Series jets, the kind Porter would like to fly out of Billy Bishop, require a runway length of 1,460 metres, or 4,800 feet.
Buoys currently mark a perimeter of 309 metres in the water on each end of the runway. These marine exclusion zones, which are required by Transport Canada, are areas that boats are not allowed to enter due to the risk of collisions as aircraft land or take off. Porter says its planned extension would fit within these safety zones, so the buoys would stay where they are and would not be pushed further out.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Port Authority had planned to take excavated earth from the underground passageway being built to connect the mainland to the island airport and put that dirt under water, inside the marine exclusion zone on the east end of the runway. The idea is that the shallow water would also stop boats from entering the safety zone.
Critics have speculated that this means the runway extension is in fact already being built. No, say both Porter and the Toronto Port Authority. They say their plans were made independently, and no work has begun on the underwater landfill, according to the port authority.
Is 168 metres on each end enough? Will they want more?
Transport Canada requires runways to have 60 metres of extra length in case an airplane overshoots its mark. Plus, it recommends (but does not require) an additional 90-metre safety strip, known as a runway end safety area. So that means an extra 150 metres in total.
Porter says the new runway would be long enough to include this extra, recommended length. The extra safety area will be additional paved runway, not grass. Why? Although the touchdown point for landings won’t be moved much from where it is today, planes could use the extra tarmac for takeoff, explains a Porter spokesman.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which doesn’t make regulations and is instead an independent governmental agency investigating accidents, recommends a much longer safety zone of 300 metres in total (the required 60 plus an additional 240), in line with general recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
No Jets TO contends that an extension of the runway will pose a “significant threat” to recreational boating in the area, as well as cause pollution. Their report also says that due to the tall buildings on the east side of the airport, there is a chance the entire expansion would occur westward. Such an expansion, the report says, would “almost reach the buildings in Ontario Place” and make the channel between Toronto Island and the mainland – known as the Western Gap – inaccessible to marine traffic.
Mr. Deluce told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board the extension was planned for both ends of the runway.
Who would pay for this runway extension?
Likely air travellers using the airport through extra fees, Mr. Deluce says. “Things like the runway are the responsibility of the Toronto Port Authority, and typically those types of things get paid for by an airport improvement fee. That’s for [the port authority] to decide.”
Doesn’t this mean the island airport will get much busier?
Mr. Deluce says the amount of activity at the airport is limited by noise regulations. Porter also doesn’t plan to build more gates at the airport, but will simply keep using the 10 it currently has.
There are also no new landing and takeoff slots currently available for the airport. As a spokeswoman for the Toronto Port Authority explains: “There are no new commercial available slots to grant to any airline for any purpose. If slots were to become available at a later date, under the terms of the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport’s commercial carrier operating agreement template, priority would first go to the airline applicants that were proposing new destinations that are not currently served by the [airport].”
According to No Jets TO, the “open skies” policy that Canada and the United States have adopted will open the door for larger American jets to use the airport.
But what about all these new jets Porter is buying? Won’t the airport become much busier, especially with new, longer routes Porter is planning for the jets?
Here again, Mr. Deluce points to noise regulations limiting activity at the airport at any given time. He indicates that new flights could be spaced throughout the day when the airport is quieter in order to stay within noise regulations.
Will traffic around the airport get worse?
No Jets TO says increased activity at the airport will cause “horrendous” traffic problems on the waterfront. They argue that the Eireann Quay, which leads to the Bathurst Street ferry terminal, is already congested by vehicles picking up passengers and that the area will be unable to support any increased traffic.
Mr. Deluce says he believes the pedestrian tunnel currently being constructed between the Eireann Quay and Billy Bishop will help reduce traffic concerns in the area.
So, where are they in the approval process?
Porter needs the approval of the city, the Toronto Port Authority and the federal government. The latter two have signalled that the city needs to decide first. Mr. Deluce is pushing the city to make a decision by July, in order to get full approval and for the runway construction to be completed in time for the arrival of the first C Series jets in 2016. If the runway plan isn’t approved, Porter says the deal to buy the Bombardier jets would be off. Bombardier wouldn’t publicly give a hard and fast deadline for the deal.