Mayor Rob Ford wants Toronto's city manager to report back in July on the Porter Airlines plan to order jet aircraft and extend the runway at Billy Bishop airport, but council could wipe out the controversial proposal at its next meeting.
Mayor Ford moved a surprise motion calling for the staff report during Tuesday's executive committee meeting. The mayor said it was important to start the reporting process as quickly as possible given the extensive public interest and the fact it may take staff some time to investigate the island airport expansion.
The motion was approved by executive late Tuesday, but because of the spending involved, staff said the matter had to go through council. More than a dozen councillors have already said they oppose the project, and the city manager said the report would cost more than $200,000, meaning council approval at next month's meeting is far from a sure thing.
The committee also passed a motion asking Porter to pay for the cost of all studies.
"If city councillors decide to defend the lake in May, then we may see an answer to this question very quickly," said Councillor Adam Vaughan, who is opposed to the expansion. "We will be fighting very hard to see that the interests of the lake are protected."
Porter, which took to the skies in 2006 and now wants to transform from short-haul carrier into national airline, announced its plan to order jet aircraft and extend the runway at island airport this month.
But before Porter can move forward with its plan it must get approval from the three signatories to the tripartite agreement that governs the airport: the city, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority.
Some area residents have long complained about the airport's noise and already given the expansion plan a thumbs-down.
Robert Deluce, Porter's president and chief executive officer, sent Mr. Ford a letter on the issue Monday, stating the expansion would bring jobs and economic benefits to the city.
"To ensure the parties have sufficient time to finalize the amendment to the tripartite agreement, we require the city of Toronto's approval in July, 2013," Mr. Deluce wrote. "This would allow for the infrastructure requirements to be designed and completed ahead of our first delivery in early 2016."
Brad Cicero, a Porter spokesman, said Mr. Deluce was unavailable for an interview Tuesday. Lobbyist records show Mr. Deluce met with at least two councillors last week, Doug Holyday and Karen Stintz.
Mr. Cicero, when asked why the city would need to give its approval in July, said the airline is at the mercy of the city hall calendar. He said the matter would be put off for months if it was not discussed at the July 3 executive meeting.
The next executive meeting would be held Sept. 24.
Mr. Cicero said the company doesn't believe July would be too soon for staff to issue their report.
"It's well over two months. We think that's a reasonable amount of time," he said.
During the discussion late Tuesday, staff expressed concern about the timing of the request, saying they could produce preliminary work only by the summer deadline.
When asked about the councillors who have already voiced their opposition, Mr. Cicero said it would be premature to start counting votes. He said the proposal is reasonable and deserves full and proper consideration.
Mayor Ford recommended the city manager report back on the approval process that would be required to amend the tripartite agreement. He also wanted staff to examine the economic impact of the plan, whether it would be possible to rescind the exclusion of jet aircraft while maintaining current noise limits, and how Transport Canada regulations would affect the runway extension.