No one wants a clone of the suburban Pearson International Airport to be situated in Toronto's downtown waterfront area. But a proposal from Robert Deluce, chief executive officer of Porter Airlines, to expand the island airport, with bigger runways and, for the first time, jets, deserves full consideration. It should not be dismissed on the basis of fear-mongering.
There ought to be a healthy debate about the waterfront area's capacity to host an expanded Billy Bishop Airport. The waterfront is coming to life after years of neglect. The facilities being built for the 2015 Pan Am Games will add further vibrancy. The question is what kind of airport would suit a city that values its connectedness to other major North American cities, and how much expansion can be accommodated while still allowing the waterfront to be preserved and enhanced for Torontonians to enjoy.
The Billy Bishop Airport is a wonderful asset, a five-minute cab ride from Bay Street, and from the thousands of new condominium units that have sprung up, giving Toronto's downtown a happening vibe. Richard Florida, the urban theorist, says that as cities grow, airports grow even faster, speeding up the "urban metabolism." Billy Bishop has become hugely popular, growing from 25,000 flights in 2005 to 1.9 million flights last year. It's too late to slow the metabolism.
No other major downtown in North America has an airport so close. (Boston, San José, San Diego, Las Vegas, Miami and Washington all have international airports within 3.5 to 5 miles of downtown.) Billy Bishop has contributed much to the quality of life for downtown residents. An expansion, with new-generation jets that will add Vancouver and Los Angeles to Porter's roster, would enhance the city's competitive advantages.
The noise of jets should not be an issue. The new generation of Bombardier CS100 jets purchased conditionally by Porter Airlines are said to be well within the decibel limits permitted at Billy Bishop, and any other new planes using the airport would have to stay within those limits. The runway extension, which requires filling in part of Lake Ontario, seems unobjectionable; much of the waterfront lands are man-made.
Toronto City Council does not hold all the cards (the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority, an independent federal agency, are also key players), but its voice will, and should, speak loudest. Billy Bishop should not become an international airport and does not have the size or space to become one. But the proposed expansion is worth a close look.
The Billy Bishop Airport has grown from 25,000 passengers in 2005 to 1.9 million in 2012. Friday's print edition and earlier online versions of this editorial incorrectly referred to the number of flights.