Porter Airlines boss Robert Deluce says recent plane crashes in which jetliners have missed or slid off runways in Halifax and New York will not affect his drive to land jets at Toronto's tiny waterfront airport.
New 150-metre safety areas meant to address the risk of what regulators call a "runway excursion" are expected to be demanded soon by Transport Canada at all Canadian airports, Mr. Deluce said on Thursday, but these buffer zones have already been built into Porter's controversial plans to extend the runways at Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport to make way for new jets.
"With or without jets, the runways at that airport will be expanded in the future," Mr. Deluce told reporters after a speech at the Empire Club. "And I think that's just a fact of life, part of progress."
In a lunchtime address to a Bay Street audience of about 200 people, Mr. Deluce pitched his proposal to expand the island airport's runways by 200 metres into the water in each direction. The expansion would allow short-haul Porter to bring in up to 30 new Bombardier CS100 jets and offer more distant destinations such as the West Coast and Florida. He said the move would create jobs and spur competition that would reduce air fares.
The proposal is subject to various reviews, including an environmental assessment, and still must be approved by Toronto City Council. If all goes as Mr. Deluce plans, he said Porter hopes to have its first new jets in the air in 2017. But he said if Bombardier's so-called whisper jets, which are still being flight-tested, do not meet the airport's strict noise rules, Porter will not buy them.
In his speech, Mr. Deluce struck out at local activists with the group NoJetsTO, accusing them of spreading "untruths and misinformation." For example, he said their claim the "marine exclusion zone" required around the expanded airport would exclude boaters from vast areas is false. Mr. Deluce said the new runways would mean only minor changes to the zone, and would have "no material impact on boating."
In a phone interview, Norman Di Pasquale, the chairman of NoJetsTO, said Transport Canada, not Mr. Deluce, will decide how big that zone around the new runway needs to be: "It isn't his call. ... We're talking about jet blasts of 90 kilometres an hour coming out of these jets. Do you want to have a sailboat on the edge of the marine exclusion zone [in that case]? I sure don't."
Mr. Deluce also went after his competitor, Air Canada, for recently coming out against his plans. In 2013, when Porter announced its jets proposal, Air Canada said it wanted to fly jets from the airport as well, he said. Now, it has reversed itself, a move Mr. Deluce suggested was driven by fear of new competition on longer-haul routes: "It's always been a little hard for me to tell what Air Canada actually does want at Billy Bishop Airport."
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an e-mail that his airline has been "consistent in its position that we do not view jets as appropriate for the Toronto Island airport" but that it would fly them there if they were allowed. He also said Porter's control of 85 per cent of the airplane slots at a publicly owned airport was "unprecedented in the world" and that it has "steadfastly resisted giving Air Canada or any other airline greater access."