Image courtesy Porter Airlines.
Councillors and at least one community group are vowing to fight plans to expand operations at Toronto's island airport.
At a press conference Wednesday, Porter Airlines announced plans to purchase up to 30 CS100 jet planes, which would allow the company to add more than a dozen destinations to the list of 19 cities it serves. Locations the company is eyeing include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Miami, and Nassau, in the Bahamas.
The problem is that under a three-party agreement signed in 1983 by the city, federal government, and the Toronto Port Authority, jets are currently prohibited from using Billy Bishop Airport. Porter - which at the moment uses only turboprop planes - is seeking not only a change to that agreement but also a 20-per-cent extension of the airport's runway.
The airline's public pitch seems certain to plunge council into yet another debate over the airport, which was the focus of intense controversy during the 2003 mayoral election.
Bill Freeman of lakefront residents' group CommunityAIR says that despite assurances from the airport's proponents, he has been concerned that jets would come to Billy Bishop ever since Porter took off there seven years ago.
"It was always our fear that this was just the thin edge of the wedge, and it's just going to get worse," he says. "And here it is. The nightmare has arrived."
Freeman says that Porter's operations have already caused major problems in the surrounding area, including traffic jams at the foot of Bathurst, pollution, and excessive noise.
He argues that expanding the downtown airport is unnecessary because the province is already building a rail link from Union Station to Pearson Airport.
"Do we need this airport here?" he asks. "Why doesn't Porter go up to Pearson? It's not like Pearson doesn't have the capability."
The Toronto island resident rejects critics who would accuse CommunityAIR of practicing NIMBYism.
"I say to them, what sort of city do they want to live in? Do they want to live in a city where there's a constant buzz of aircraft overhead on their waterfront?" he says. "We're talking about a very serious, major airport on Toronto's waterfront. I think it'll ruin it."
Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina) was also keen to ground Porter's hopes Wednesday, arguing that jets and longer runways would have an adverse effect on Toronto's supply of drinking water and residents' enjoyment of the waterfront.
"We have one lake for fresh water, we have one lake that we look out on in this city," he says, "and to sacrifice it to a single industrial user is environmentally and socially and economically the wrong thing to do. This is about a fight to save Lake Ontario, and I think all Torontonians have a stake in the future of that lake being healthy, clean, and usable."
Porter describes the CS100 planes it plans to order as "whisper jets" that are "tailor-made for urban airports," and claims they are "comparably loud" to the prop crafts in the company's current fleet. The airline also boasts that the planes are low-emission and have a "peerless environmental scorecard."
The company is not asking for changes to the noise restrictions that govern the airport.
But Councillor Mike Layton, whose Trinity-Spadina ward abuts the western waterfront, says even at current noise levels he receives complaints from residents about Porter's planes.
He says that thanks to the recent condo boom, the lakeshore has seen rapid densification and it would be unwise to start flying jets nearby.
"All the people at Harbourfront, all the people at CityPlace are going to have all these jet planes going right by their windows?" he asks.
"I know [downtown airport service] is convenient for some people, but it shouldn't be at the expense of other people's quality of life. And that's the reality."
Changes to the tripartite agreement would likely require the consent of Ottawa, city council, and the Toronto Port Authority. In a statement released Wednesday, the TPA said it would take no position "until a determination is first made by the elected representatives on Toronto City Council."