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Delay in noise study threatens to ground Porter’s jet plans

Porter Airlines is only allowed to fly turboprop planes into Toronto's island airport

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Plans by Porter Airlines Inc. to fly jets out of Toronto's island airport are facing new challenges with news that the city will not have key noise studies in time for a planned December report to city council.

Porter wants to expand its flight network at the downtown airport, which would require lengthening the runway at both ends into Lake Ontario. City staff are evaluating the proposal, and on Tuesday released an interim report.

The mayor's executive committee will consider the update next week. A final report is expected to go to the same committee Dec. 5 and to council Dec. 16.

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Staff say Transport Canada has advised them it does not expect it will able to confirm until next May or later the noise data on the Bombardier CS100 aircraft that Porter wants to buy.

Councillor Pam McConnell, who represents the ward that includes the downtown waterfront, predicts the delay – along with other issues raised by staff – will poke "enormous holes" in Porter's business plan. "It would be impossible for council to make a decision until they see the report on noise," she said.

Ms. McConnell, who tried this year to have council vote against the airport expansion, said she will make another attempt at its October meeting.

Porter said Tuesday the city would have enough information to finish the report on time.

"Everyone, including the city, has been aware of the final certification timeline by Transport Canada for many months," airline spokesman Brad Cicero said in an e-mail. "There will be testing completed in the coming weeks that will be provided to the city so that a final report can be completed in November. We don't anticipate that the timelines set out by city hall for staff reports will be affected."

Porter is seeking to have the ban on jets flying to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport lifted or to have a special exception made for the CS100s. Currently, Porter can fly only turboprop planes into the airport, which is governed by a tripartite agreement between the city, the Toronto Port Authority and federal regulators.

Bombardier told city staff that the manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp., had delivered an engine to a test facility where it could be evaluated. But the city's aviation consultants advised that this did not conform to international testing standards and that the engine needed to be tested on the aircraft's frame in flight.

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The city's update also noted that the only aircraft noise monitoring being done is an annual review by Transport Canada. "This annual assessment does not take into account how individual aircraft noise is actually perceived by individuals or affected by atmospheric or physical conditions around the airport," the report said.

The city update said that three noise measurements need to be done with the aircraft in use – "if these three measurements are not provided to the city … city council will have insufficient information to make an informed decision on whether the CS100 aircraft can operate at BBTCA in compliance with the Tripartite Agreement."

Earlier Tuesday, Porter president Robert Deluce said he does not anticipate significant delays in Bombardier's schedule for delivering the CS100s by 2016, assuming Porter gets approval.

"I don't think there's any major alteration to when our deliveries are going to come, if any," he said. "My guess is that those January, 2016, airplanes will actually be on time. There's no real reason why they wouldn't be, as long as the test flight program goes well. And there's no reason to think that won't happen."

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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