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Meeting on island airport extension stokes debate

Porter Airlines has signed an interline agreement that will allow passengers easier access to African destinations.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Plans to expand Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport to allow jet traffic provoked an extended discussion before Mayor Rob Ford's executive, even though a final decision on the controversial proposal is months way.

The committee received an update from staff Wednesday on work to evaluate the expansion plan. A report on the first phase of that study is expected in September, with a final submission to come in November.

About two dozen speakers signed up to address the committee, although their numbers dwindled when the meeting stretched past the dinner hour.

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A number of local residents came to voice their concerns about increased noise and traffic that an expansion would bring.

Mike McNaney of WestJet told the committee his firm is not advocating for or against jets at the waterfront airport, but said any restrictions should be based on noise levels, rather than singling out a specific make of aircraft.

If jets are allowed, he said WestJet "will certainly want to operate there."

Toronto's Porter Airlines wants to buy jet aircraft and extend the runway at the island airport. The expansion plan must be approved by the three signatories to the tripartite agreement that governs the airport – the city, the federal government and the port authority. The agreement does not currently allow jets.

The Toronto Port Authority, which owns and operates the airport, has agreed to pick up the tab for phase one of the city report.

Original estimates put the cost of the preliminary report at between $225,000 and $275,000. City staff now expect those costs to climb by an additional $400,000 because some of the work that was to be included in the second phase of the study will be moved up. Discussions are taking place with the Port Authority regarding the added costs, staff said. Asked about noise levels, staff said they have access to published data, rather than conducting their own measurements. Deputy city manager John Livey said consultants also will assess the potential impact on soil and air of the expansion.

"We should let staff go away and do their work," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who noted he witnessed the same discussion 10 years ago. "There shouldn't be haste in preparing this report, nor should it be delayed."

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A motion to expand a traffic study was endorsed by the committee.

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