Opponents of the Island Airport say they will meet Monday to formulate a plan of attack after they, like many, were caught off guard by Porter Airlines’s announcement this week that it wants to overturn a jet ban and extend the runway at both ends.
It’s a familiar spot for them, given the many fights residents have waged, against noise, pollution and eviction, since the airport opened nearly 75 years ago.
But there’s a sense among some opponents that the fight will be harder this time around, given the loyal following Porter has gained since it first took to the skies in 2006. An opinion poll showed 87 per cent of Torontonians believe the airport – at which Porter is the primary tenant – is a valuable asset for the city. With its rows of Mac computers, and free drinks and snacks, Porter has carved out a devoted following of Bay Street businessmen, government mandarins and hipsters. Last year it counted 2.5-million passengers.
“This is the decisive battle,” said Bill Freeman, a 25-year Toronto Island resident and member of Community Air, an association that wants to shut down the airport. “I don’t mean to give it a warlike metaphor.”
Mr. Freeman said residents have yet to plot out an exact course of action, but plan to meet with city councillors to discuss the issue. There’s also talk of a questionnaire to gauge opposition to the plan among area residents.
Of Porter, Mr. Freeman said, “They’ve developed a following, there’s no doubt about that.
“I know lots of people who consider I’m a bit of an oddball, that I’d continue to oppose Porter,” he said. “Fair enough.”
The residents aren’t the only ones facing a challenge. Porter will have to do some selling.
Though Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother have expressed their support for Porter’s expansion plan, more than a dozen other councillors have said they are opposed. A tripartite agreement that governs the airport – signed by the city, federal government and Toronto Port Authority, which owns the airport – requires the support of all signatories.
Kathryn Exner, who has lived in the Bathurst Quay area for 18 years and is a member of its neighbourhood association, said Porter’s announcement was upsetting for residents.
“I think there are a lot of people in this neighbourhood who have become either exhausted by the fight, or are complacent that other people will deal with it,” she said. “But I think this new announcement is spurring people into action that I haven’t seen any grumbles from before.”
She said she’s aware some will decry the residents as “a bunch of NIMBYs.”
“There is a perception out there that the airport’s always been out there and people are just complaining, a bunch of NIMBYs,” she said. “It’s like, damn right it’s NIMBYism. It’s not in anybody else’s backyard. If this was a situation that got picked up and plunked into the middle of Forest Hill or somewhere else they would be furious.”
Ms. Exner said the Bathurst Quay area has enough traffic issues, particularly near the school, without the expansion. Mr. Freeman raised concerns about more planes, including private jets, landing at the airport, and the runway extension having a negative effect on boaters.
Robert Deluce, Porter’s chief executive officer, said the airline is proud of its track record and considers itself a good neighbour.
When asked what Porter has done that would classify it as a good neighbour, he pointed to the jet it’s conditionally agreed to purchase, the Bombardier CS100.
Mr. Deluce said Porter looked at other products from Airbus and Boeing and chose the Bombardier aircraft because of its comparable sound level to the existing Q400 turboprops.
“We’re very tuned into the fact that no noise is good noise,” he said.
Pamela McDonald, a port authority spokeswoman, said the organization is committed to balancing the needs of the residential community with airport users and take any concerns that are raised very seriously.
The port authority recorded 348 noise violations in 2012. Mr. Deluce said 119 complaints were about Q400 noise, and they came from 38 people. He said four people generated 50 per cent of the complaints.
Mr. Deluce said the controversy about the noise is “manufactured.”
He said Porter plans to meet with civic and federal politicians to discuss its plans in the near future. He did not indicate whether there are any plans to try to appease island residents specifically.
Mr. Deluce said the number of condominiums that have been built in the area since Porter set up shop show the airport is not a deterrent.
Robert Kokonis, managing director of research firm AirTrav, said there were three keys that helped Porter develop into the airline it is today. He said the airline offered good value, developed strong brand awareness, and its flights were convenient to get to, a fact that will only be highlighted next year when a pedestrian tunnel opens.
However, Mr. Kokonis said not all the news is positive for Porter as it plans to sell its expansion. He said it has had a declining load factor in six of the last seven months.