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WestJet’s bid to fly jets from Toronto island airport rekindles expansion debate

WestJet Airline Inc.’s CEO says new Boeing 737 planes the airline is ordering are capable of operating out of Toronto’s island airport, but there are no slots available.

CNW GROUP/WESTJET

WestJet Airlines Inc. has reiterated its request that it be allowed to join Porter Airlines Inc. in flying jets into and out of Billy Bishop International Airport, sparking another demand by Councillor Adam Vaughan that any expansion of the airport be stopped.

Gregg Saretsky, chief executive officer of WestJet, said new Boeing 737 planes the airline is ordering are capable of operating out of Billy Bishop, but there are no slots available.

"We would like to have the opportunity to fly jets ourselves from that airport," Mr. Saretsky was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg News interview. "The 737 is capable of operating off the runway at Billy Bishop."

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If he is correct, then Air Canada would also be able to fly jets from the airport because it has also ordered the updated version of the Boeing 737 that WestJet will receive.

Mr. Vaughan hit on a key issue that needs to be addressed in the Porter plan to fly Bombardier Inc. C Series planes out of Billy Bishop.

"Once you open up to [Porter CEO Robert] Deluce's jets, you open up to WestJet, Air Canada and any other carrier who has access to Canada has a right to land and use the international airport," he said.

"Everyone gets a fair shot at it and there's no control. And you surrender the airport to something the size of the Ottawa International Airport."

Porter has 172 of the 202 slots at Billy Bishop, while Air Canada has the other 30. WestJet has none.

The Boeing 737 Max, which is the plane ordered by both WestJet and Air Canada, has not flown yet, so it's not known if its new, more fuel-efficient engines will meet the noise requirements that so far have been one of the factors that have kept jets out of the skies above the Toronto harbour.

Mr. Deluce believes the C Series will meet the noise requirements.

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Air Canada chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu has stopped short of calling for access for Air Canada jets, but said earlier this fall that Billy Bishop " is not somebody's private playground and it cannot be structured as somebody's private playground because we're dealing with a public asset that is meant to have proper competition."

Mr. Rovinescu called for the city and the Toronto Port Authority to give Air Canada the same access as Porter, but as a commuter facility that permits short-haul travel to and from the centre of Toronto.

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Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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