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Porter Airlines eager to work with ‘energized’ new Toronto council

An aerial view shows the Toronto Islands and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in the foreground of Toronto October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Chris Wattie/REUTERS

A decision on the proposed expansion of Toronto's Island airport is months if not more than a year away, a senior city official says, but Porter Airlines, which wants to bring jets to the waterfront, predicts projects such as this will be "energized" by a new term of council.

The controversial plan to expand the runway and allow jets at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport was proposed by Porter in 2013.

At the time, the regional carrier was emphatic it needed a fast decision from the city to meet its purchase deadline and begin flying Bombardier C Series jets out of the waterfront airport by 2016.

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Faced with public opposition and unable to get the votes required for a quick approval, city council agreed in April to study the plan further, placing several conditions on any expansion and setting the stage for the new mayor and council to revisit the issue early in the term.

Since then, the "sense of great urgency" to get a decision has gone, says deputy city manager John Livey, the Toronto official overseeing the file.

With several key studies still outstanding, he said it is not "particularly realistic" to expect a council decision this spring, estimating it likely will be the fall before information is available.

"We are a long ways away from advancing this," he said on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the airline sees things differently.

"Our understanding is quite the opposite. A significant amount of work is getting done and the process started immediately after the council vote last April," Brad Cicero wrote in an e-mail.

"It is likely that many projects at city hall will be energized when the transition period is complete and the new council formally starts next month."

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Mr. Cicero said the airline has not spoken recently to city staff or councillors and that it is premature to speculate on a specific timeline.

Most of the work is now in the hands of the Toronto Port Authority, which owns the airport, although the city is studying ways to deal with traffic at the foot of Bathurst Street.

A spokeswoman for the Port Authority said work on the first phase of an environmental assessment is taking place. The first meeting with stakeholders was this week, and a public meeting is being planned for December.

The Port Authority expects to have all the work completed in the next six to eight months, Deborah Wilson, vice-president of communications for the Port Authority, said in an e-mail.

The federal agency also has consultants developing preliminary runway designs, as council requested, and is working on a master plan for future airport growth, she said.

The waterfront airport is governed by a tripartite agreement among the city, the federal government and the Port Authority.

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Any move to expand the airport and allow the jets to use it would require the approval of all three parties to that agreement.

Mr. Livey said the city is not in control of the timing of the studies, but expects it will have input into the environmental assessment.

He said that, given the initial urgency surrounding the expansion plans, he expected the parties would consider several issues simultaneously, but to date there has been no discussion on the contentious issue of placing permanent caps on the number of flights and passengers as requested by council at the April meeting.

In response, Ms. Wilson at the Port Authority said the agency's position is that the work requested by council should be completed before any discussion of caps takes place.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief

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