An uninformed visitor to Toronto City Hall on Tuesday morning would have come away thinking the public is fiercely opposed to letting jets fly out of Billy Bishop airport. A parade of speakers showed up at city council's executive committee to denounce the proposal by Porter Airlines chief Robert Deluce.
One speaker from the neighbourhood across the Western Gap from the island airport said allowing jets would rob residents of "their basic life-sustaining needs … leaving us nothing but neighbourhood devastation, increased cardiovascular diseases and cancers." Jets, he said, would not only "suffocate a neighbourhood," but "destroy an entire waterfront park system." If jets come in, "we won't be able to breathe any more."
Another speaker said the jets would be a "death sentence for thousands of birds," turning a nearby bird sanctuary into a "killing zone." Another asked councillors to think twice before "concreting over the lake." Another said that, even the airport's current turbo-prop traffic had created a "living hell" for waterfront residents. Still another said permitting jets would be "economic and cultural suicide for this city."
The island airport, a hot issue in Toronto for more than a decade, always stirs up wild passions. Opponents of the Porter proposal say jets would jeopardize public health, create a safety hazard, pollute the air and water, snarl land traffic, ruin the public's enjoyment of the waterfront, drive away tourists and be a waste of public money. Let's get a grip.
What Mr. Deluce wants is a modest expansion of the existing airport to accommodate slightly larger planes that happen to be powered by jet engines instead of propellers. On Tuesday, he repeated his promise that he will not proceed with the jets plan if the new aircraft exceed the airport's noise rules or if the longer runway required takes substantially more usable space from the harbour. The plan must clear many other hurdles, from approval of a runway design to an environmental assessment to confirmation the Bombardier planes live up to their "whisper-jet" nickname.
There is no danger that jets will turn Billy Bishop into a "Pearson-by-the-lake," as one group of opponents puts it. With a single runway of limited length, it could never take the big airliners that fly from major airports. If that is not enough to ease concerns that Billy Bishop will turn into a behemoth, the Toronto Port Authority has offered to put an interim cap on the number of passengers who fly in and out of the airport.
Fortunately, the speakers who turned up at City Hall on Tuesday morning were not representative. A couple of recent opinion polls suggest that more Torontonians support the jets proposal than oppose it. That reflects the popularity of Porter and of Billy Bishop, a convenient alternative for downtowners and business travellers who want to avoid the trek to Pearson.
Despite the huge increase in traffic at Billy Bishop since Porter's debut, the waterfront has not fallen into ruin. Quite the opposite. Waterfront redevelopment is going full steam ahead and thousands of new residents have come to live in condominiums within view of Billy Bishop. For many of them, it is a positive advantage to live near an airport that can whisk them to New York, Montreal or Chicago.
Sailboats still cruise harbour waters, bathers still bask on island beaches, and birds still soar through the air. The sky has not fallen since the airport started to grow, despite all the scaremongering from its foes. Why should we believe them now when they say that jets will lead to the end of civilization as we know it?