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In addition to being a key economic driver, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is advancing a range of initiatives to further elevate its benefits and reduce its environmental impacts.Supplied

There are many benefits that come from having an airport in downtown Toronto – serving more than 20 destinations, just steps from the financial district and attractions, and accessible by foot, bike or transit. But with this proximity and convenience comes a responsibility to do things differently, and invest in infrastructure and technology that reduces the impacts of operations. At least that’s how the team at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport sees it.

“As a downtown airport, it is incumbent upon us to do things differently than other airports and continually seek to improve, innovate and identify ways to make the airport cleaner, greener and quieter. That is our mantra, and it is behind every decision we make with regard to operations and investment,” says RJ Steenstra, president and CEO of PortsToronto, owner and operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

With 85 years on Toronto’s waterfront, Billy Bishop Airport is an important international gateway and a key driver of Toronto’s economy. The airport served approximately 2.8 million passengers in 2019 and has made a strong recovery following a few years of disruption caused by the pandemic.

It is estimated that the airport added approximately $3-billion to Toronto’s economy in 2022 and is expected to grow to nearly $4.8-billion by 2025. It is also an important source of jobs and plays a key role in the Ontario health-care system due to the Ornge medevac operations that are located at the airport, minutes away from the majority of Toronto hospitals.

But with all of this activity comes impacts specific to noise and the environment. So in 2015, Billy Bishop Airport began its journey towards greater environmental sustainability. It began with the opening of the pedestrian tunnel that now runs under the bedrock of Lake Ontario and is used by approximately 90 per cent of its passengers to get to and from the mainland.

“The pedestrian tunnel was a game changer for Billy Bishop Airport as it eliminated the waves of passengers that came and went according to the ferry’s 15-minute schedule. Now the passenger flow is a constant, well-managed stream that has all but eliminated traffic congestion in the area related to airport operations,” said Mr. Steenstra.

The tunnel was followed up by the construction of a Ground Run-up Enclosure – only the second of its kind in Canada – which dampens the noise related to required post-maintenance engine run-ups.

“The enclosure has virtually eliminated complaints related to maintenance run-ups, which had been our top complaint from those in the community. Once we had addressed that noise source, we turned our attention to another prevalent complaint – the passenger ferry. And in 2021, we were proud to re-launch the Marilyn Bell passenger ferry as Canada’s first all-electric ferry,” said Mr. Steenstra.

The retrofitted Marilyn Bell ferry runs quietly and without air emissions related to fuel-powered operations. In fact, the conversion has removed 530 tonnes of GHG emissions. And, given that Billy Bishop Airport is the only airport in Canada to be 100 per cent powered by renewable Bullfrog Power, even charging the ferry is done sustainably.

Later this year, all of the airport’s shuttle buses will follow suit and will be replaced with electric buses to reduce noise and emissions from shuttle operations.

“Being a downtown airport comes with many opportunities in terms of convenience, access and proximity, but it also comes with greater responsibility to ensure that we maintain balance with the surrounding waterfront,” says Mr. Steenstra.

This includes a curfew that prohibits commercial aircraft from operating between 11:00 p.m. and 6:45 a.m. to provide quiet during the nighttime hours, redesigning flight paths to try to avoid residential areas, and collaboration with airlines so aircraft taxi on a single engine to reduce noise.

Billy Bishop Airport’s efforts to operate sustainably is important to Toronto. A recent survey conducted by Environics found strong support for Billy Bishop Airport, and it also found that Toronto residents want the airport to invest and be conscious of its environmental impact, with 86 per cent expressing this view.

“At the end of the day, it is all about balance,” said Mr. Steenstra. “Billy Bishop Airport is a unique and valuable asset to the City of Toronto, and we want to ensure that we can provide benefit to the city by growing the economy and facilitating trade, tourism and connectivity, while remaining focused on the environment and making investments and innovations that reduce our environmental footprint.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.