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A Porter Airlines plane landing at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on April 9, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The majority of people using Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport are leisure travellers, a new survey finds – the type of passenger Porter Airlines Inc. says it is courting with its plan to expand the runway and introduce jets.

An annual poll for the Toronto Port Authority, conducted by Ipsos Reid this summer, found that 59 per cent of trips out of the airport were for leisure and 41 per cent were for business. Only a quarter were exclusively for business.

"That's exactly what we see as far as the shift to leisure," said Porter spokesman Brad Cicero. "The idea that this is an airport only for a certain small segment of business travellers is very outdated. That might have been true in 2006 and 2007 when we were flying primarily to Ottawa and Montreal."

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He added that the route network is more diverse now. "Some of the destinations are leisure focused," while most cater to both business and leisure, he said.

Councillor Adam Vaughan, however, contended that this undercuts the argument for the airport as a vital economic driver given its close physical proximity to Toronto's financial and corporate centre.

"It explains why Porter is looking for holiday destinations, not business destinations, with jet expansion. It begs the question, Why are we doing it in the downtown core?" Mr. Vaughan said. Calling Billy Bishop a boutique airport, he criticized Porter's new, alternative proposal to add a total of 400 metres to the runway. (It had previously asked for a 336-metre extension).

The Toronto Port Authority, which owns and operates the airport, noted at its annual general meeting Thursday that most of the poll findings were positive. One in three Torontonians have used the waterfront airport, and 96 per cent of users polled "agree" that the experience was a good one. Roughly half or so of the meeting's audience were citizens questioning the airport and other port authority development, and the meeting ended in shouting and boos from about three dozen opponents of the airport.

"I think people are starting to see that the Porter proposal is asking for a little bit more every time," said Gautam Malkani of the No Jets T.O. campaign.

The port authority said Thursday that it continues to defer to city hall and will only consider Porter's plan if it receives city approval.

The poll surveyed 700 randomly selected adults in Toronto, 300 of whom live south of Queen Street. Conducted between July 29 and Aug. 9, 2013, it has an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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