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Billy Bishop, a Canadian pilot who fought in the First World War, already has an airport named after him in his hometown of Owen Sound, Ont., shown at left. A proposal by the Toronto Port Authority would rename that city’s island airport the Billy Bishop Memorial Airport. NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA

National Archives of Canada

It is perhaps a testament to the reputation of famed Canadian fighter pilot Billy Bishop that he is set to have an airport named in his honour - again.

The Toronto Port Authority plans to announce Thursday that it will rename the City Centre Airport on the island as the Billy Bishop Memorial Airport, sources tell The Globe and Mail.

The news came as a surprise 200 kilometres northwest of Toronto in Mr. Bishop's hometown of Owen Sound.

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The small city is filled with tributes to the First World War pilot, including its own airport: the Billy Bishop Regional Airport.

"You can't have two Billy Bishop airports," Owen Sound airport manager Barry Lewin said, who hadn't heard of the TPA's plan.

"You'd think, out of courtesy, they would have notified or asked us? Because we certainly wouldn't be in favour."

The TPA appears to have notified Owen Sound's mayor, not the airport, within the past two weeks of the imminent change.

Mayor Ruth Lovell-Stanners returned last night from a two-week vacation in Scotland to find a letter from TPA board chair Mark McQueen outlining his agency's intentions.

"We'll name ours the Toronto Island Airport, and we'll wait and see what happens," deadpans Ms. Lovell-Stanners.

While she appreciates any honour afforded to the hometown hero, she worries having two similarly named airports will pose safety concerns.

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"The big issue here is whether the pilots will understand and be safe and be able to distinguish between the two airports," she said.

That may not be a problem, as airports have four digit codes that most pilots refer to.

Critics in Toronto, however, say the move isn't about Billy Bishop, but is rather intended to deflect attention from questions over alleged scandals likely to be posed at the TPA's annual general meeting today.

Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan called the change "ludicrous, a red herring."

Beginning next month, the island airport's chief patron, Porter Airlines, is expanding its Toronto-Ottawa service and will make the round-trip journey up to 17 times a day.

Ottawa, meanwhile, is said to be looking favourably at a proposal to funnel millions of dollars in "stimulus funds" to construct a pedestrian tunnel connecting the airport to the lakeshore.

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Two board members were unceremoniously let go this week, and questions continue to be raised over the spending of former TPA chief executive officer Lisa Raitt, who is now a cabinet minister.

"There are much more important issues [than the name]" said Brian Iler, leader of Community Air, a grassroots group that opposes the island airport.

Mr. McQueen and other board members declined comment last night.

William Avery Bishop is said to have downed 72 enemy aircraft in the First World War in a career that earned him a long string of citations including the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Widely written about and lauded in the famous play Billy Bishop Goes to War , the extent of his air-combat prowess has also been questioned.

Critics complain that too few of his kills are verified by independent witnesses or German war records.

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Mr. Bishop died in 1956.

Though naming two airports after him would be unusual, it wouldn't pose a safety risk because pilots use the four-character airport identifying codes, said Canadian Owners and Pilots Association president Kevin Psutka. The codes in Owen Sound (CYOS) and on the island (CYTZ) wouldn't change.

"You can't file a flight plan to the name 'Billy Bishop' or the name 'Owen Sound,'" Mr. Psutka said. "If you have two Billy Bishops, I don't know that's too much of an issue, other than the Owen Sound folks might be upset."

With a report from Timothy Appleby

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