Porter Airlines needs the city to approve its jet-powered plans for the island airport by July, and the short-haul carrier with national aspirations is willing to pick up the tab for a city report if that will speed up the process.
Robert Deluce, Porter’s president and chief executive officer, met with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Wednesday for an hour-long discussion on the airline’s plan to order jet aircraft and extend the runway at Billy Bishop airport.
Mayor Rob Ford’s cabinet-like executive committee passed a motion this week directing the city manager to write the report, but the committee asked Porter to pick up the tab, which Mr. Deluce said the company would “be more than happy” to do, provided the report is released in a timely manner at a reasonable cost.
Porter’s expansion plan must be approved by the three signatories to the tripartite agreement that governs the island airport, including the city. The proposal has rekindled a bitter dispute at City Hall, with some councillors complaining they were not properly consulted and that Porter is moving far too quickly.
But Mr. Deluce, whose airline took to the skies in 2006 and has a loyal following among both the business and leisure crowds, said the lack of meetings at City Hall during the summer means Porter must move fast to give the other parties in the tripartite agreement time to respond. He said the company must also abide by its conditional agreement with aircraft manufacturer Bombardier.
“I think any manufacturer will only wait so long with a conditional order. And it either becomes firm, or it falls away,” he said, although he declined to discuss terms of the deal.
Joe Pennachetti, Toronto’s city manager, said during Tuesday’s executive meeting that the report, which would look at amending the tripartite agreement and economic effects of the plan, among other things, could cost more than $200,000. John Livey, the deputy city manager, said staff would need to consult with affected parties, including residents, the school board, businesses and agencies such as Waterfront Toronto. Mr. Livey said a preliminary report is likely all that could be completed by July.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor’s executive and chair of the public works committee, said on Wednesday that he did not believe a proper report could be completed until the fall.
“I think that’s an exceedingly aggressive timetable and it may not be realistic to expect staff to report back in time,” he said.
Adding further uncertainty to Porter’s plan is the fact that council could reject the request for the report at its meeting next month.
Mr. Deluce said he didn’t want to speculate on how councillors could vote, or what the company would do next if the report request were rejected. Lobbyist records show he has met with more than a dozen councillors since Porter’s expansion announcement earlier this month. Mr. Deluce characterized those conversations as “very positive” and called the amount of time to get a report done “reasonable.”
“It might be a bit early to know and decide what could or couldn’t be done there [by July],” he said.
Some area residents have long complained about airport noise and traffic, and former mayor David Miller campaigned in 2003 on his opposition to a bridge to the airport. Porter, however, is popular with many Torontonians. An opinion poll showed 87 per cent of residents believe the airport, of which Porter is the primary tenant, is a valuable asset for the city.
When asked for his vision for the airline, Mr. Deluce said the number of passengers going through the airport over the next seven to eight years could increase to 3.4 million from two million.
He called the pedestrian tunnel scheduled to open next year a “game-changer,” but maintained the airport’s footprint would remain largely the same.
Some councillors have accused the airline of wanting to pave Lake Ontario for its runway, although Mr. Deluce said that’s not true.
“It would extend 168 metres into the water at each end of the runway, and that would be inclusive of [the runway end safety area]. And that would be contained within the existing marine exclusion buoys. Anyone who would say that’s somehow going to tighten up the harbour, make it less enjoyable for boat traffic, that’s simply not the case because you have to navigate around those buoys today. You’d have to navigate around the same buoys in the same location if the extension were granted on the basis we’re asking,” he said.
Mr. Deluce cast doubt on claims the new planes would create more noise, calling the jets the quietest in production.
“It’s not a big airplane,” he said. “That’s part of the ‘jetphobia.’”