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The Globe and Mail

Report on proposed island airport expansion expected to cost $1-million

City staff estimate it will take up to six months and more than $1-million to study Porter Airlines' proposal to bring jets to Toronto's island airport.

A report to be considered by city council this week outlines a work plan for examining the airline's aspirations to expand its flights out of Billy Bishop Airport, including public consultations, traffic and noise studies and an analysis of economic impacts.

A preliminary report on the controversial plan is expected for the July 3 meeting of the mayor's executive committee and will cost between $225,000 and $275,000, which staff say will be funded by Porter.

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A full report will be ready in October or November, staff predict, and will cost between $800,000 and $1-million. The report recommends the city seek funding commitments from Porter and the Toronto Port Authority to cover the second phase of the study.

Porter indicated late Monday that if asked by council, it will pay for initial reports, but said there has been no request related to any second-phase study costs. "We won't speculate on what may be required and what parties may be asked to pay for those studies before council makes a decision at a later date," a spokesman for the airline wrote in an e-mail. "We're hopeful that significant progress can be made by July. If the federal government and Toronto Port Authority are prepared to conduct their own required due diligence in parallel with the city, as proposed by city staff, we anticipate that the important work required can be accomplished by this fall."

Earlier Monday, before the cost of the report was made public, Mayor Rob Ford told reporters he hoped council would vote in favour of going forward with the study. "Obviously I want to see the report approved to go to the city manager for the jets at the airport," he said when asked about his priorities for the council meeting that begins Tuesday morning.

Opponents of Porter's plans say news of the cost only reinforces the need to stop the airport expansion. "I think we just found a million more reasons not to do this," Councillor Adam Vaughan said. Mr. Vaughan and other opponents of expanding the island airport question why the city should devote money and staff resources to the plan.

City councillors are expected to vote on the airport studies this week after Mr. Ford's request for the work was referred to full council for approval because of the costs involved.

The Porter proposal would allow the short-haul carrier to add longer fights to its schedules. It requires an exemption from the airport's existing jet ban as well as the lengthening of the runway, measures that must be approved by the three signatories to the tripartite agreement that governs the island airport, including the city.

Robert Deluce, Porter's president and chief executive officer, has said he is willing to cover the cost of city studies, provided they are done in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost. Porter has said it needs the results by July to meet its conditional agreement with aircraft manufacturer Bombardier.

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Mr. Deluce told The Globe and Mail last month he expects passengers going through the airport over the next seven to eight years could increase to 3.4 million from two million.

He called the pedestrian tunnel scheduled to open next year a "game-changer," but maintained the airport's footprint in Lake Ontario would remain largely the same. He also cast doubt on claims the new planes would create more noise, calling the jets the quietest in production.

Writer Margaret Atwood has added her support to the group NOJetsTO, which is opposed to Porter's proposal.

With a report from Sunny Dhillon

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