Mayor Rob Ford is on board with Porter Airlines' push to expand Billy Bishop Airport, telling reporters on Thursday he sees no downside to the proposal that critics say could ruin the waterfront.
A day earlier, the upstart airline announced plans to purchase up to 30 Bombardier jet planes, which are currently banned from flying out of the island airport. The aircraft would allow the company to serve new destinations that are too far for its current turboprop fleet, but to do so the jet ban would have to be lifted and the airport's runways extended further into the lake.
Ford says he's okay with Porter's plan.
"I don't have a problem with it," he said after an event at City Hall to launch the Mayor's School Cricket Tournament. "It creates jobs, it's great for business."
While opponents of Porter's jet gambit cite concerns about pollution and increased traffic on the adjacent shore, the mayor's only worry is the noise the planes might generate. But the company has assured him that they won't be disruptive.
"Again, the only thing I'm worried about is noise, but they're saying it's very quiet," Ford said. "So if there's not a noise issue, then there's really not an issue."
The airline is not seeking amendments to the airport's current noise restrictions.
Calling Porter "a huge asset to the city," Ford called on council to support the expansion plan and said he would be comfortable if it became an election issue in 2014. One potential mayoral candidate, Councillor Karen Stintz, has already come out against it.
Adam Vaughan believes the mayor is setting himself up for a loss by backing the airline. The Trinity-Spadina councillor says that most of his colleagues oppose the idea of increased activity at the airport.
"It's just another bad idea that the mayor supports. And another bad idea that won't get through council," Vaughan said. "Every time the mayor says yes to something, we win."
Vaughan argues that keeping jets out of Billy Bishop is crucial to ongoing efforts to revitalize the waterfront, efforts that the councillor thinks Ford has already threatened by trying to push through half-baked development plans for the Port Lands in 2011.
The mayor's political opponents aren't the only ones who object to the expansion.
Thursday afternoon Ford's chair of planning, Councillor Peter Milczyn also shot it down, saying the idea of extending the runways was dead on arrival.
"I think the Porter flight from YTO is headed to DOA," Milczyn quipped, in a play on Toronto's airport code.
The councillor for Etobicoke-Lakeshore said that he was less concerned about the noise of the jets than he was about filling in part of the lake to make room for runways.
"Personally I might not object to a jet if it's as quiet as a turboprop," he said. "But I think a significant lengthening of the runway, that raises much bigger issues about our waterfront and impacts on our waterfront."
"And I don't think there's much interest at City Hall to enter into that debate," he added.
Stintz agrees. She believes few of her colleagues have the appetite to revise the three-party agreement between the city, federal government, and Toronto Port Authority that limits the airport's boundaries.
"I think there's a lot of concerns with opening up the tripartite agreement at this time," she said. "It will expire in 2033, and if we want to make changes to it then we can. But it is the governing framework for the island airport, and I think it's serving the island airport well and it's serving the city well."