First there was No Casino T.O., now there's No Jets T.O.
Taking a page from the group campaigning against a Toronto gaming resort, a new coalition is hoping to ground Porter Airlines' proposal to expand the island airport.
Representatives of No Jets T.O. held a small press conference outside City Hall on Friday, where they urged councillors to block a study on extending the runways and lifting the ban on jets at Billy Bishop Airport.
Mayor Rob Ford requested the study at his executive committee last month, and the issue will go to council next Tuesday.
"We would like the councillors to vote against the study because we don't want to see this go any farther," No Jets TO member Beverly Dywan told reporters.
With councillors across the political spectrum having already come out against expanding operations at Billy Bishop, the group thinks it has a decent shot at halting the proposal.
"I think our odds are really good," said Dywan, a creative sector consultant whose child attended the Waterfront School near the airport.
"The support to cancel this right now is very high. We may need one or maybe two more councillors, and I think that's it."
Coalition representative and Queens Quay resident Anshul Kapoor says he's flown Porter, and stresses that the group isn't against the airline's existing operations nor the island airport as it is now. But he says allowing jets to land near the waterfront would add more noise and pollution, and have a lasting negative impact on the harbour.
"This is not a fight against Porter, this is not a fight against the island airport, this is a fight against [Porter CEO] Robert Deluce's ambition to bring jets to the island airport and change our city forever," Kapoor said.
The coalition claims to represent several community groups and condo associations whose members concerned about the noise, pollution, and traffic that would be generated by a busier airport. Asked to provide a list of the groups they represent however, No Jets T.O. could not immediately provide one.
Porter spokesperson Brad Cicero doesn't believe the group reflects the views of most Torontonians.
He points to a Forum Research poll commissioned by the Toronto Star and published in April, which found that 47 per cent of residents approved of using jets at Billy Bishop and 37 per cent opposed the idea. A disputed poll commissioned by the airline found 66.2 per cent of Torontonians support the use of jets.
"I think the public opinion is quite strongly in favour of Porter and the airport and the plans that we've proposed," Cicero said. "I think there's a strong majority of people who feel that way and we're encouraged by the feedback we're receiving."
While he wouldn't predict the outcome of next week's vote, Cicero argues that all councillors should want a study of Porter's proposal, even if they don't support it.
"If anybody does have questions that they would like to have answered, then the thing to do is vote in favour of having a staff report done," he said. "I don't see why anybody would not be in favour of that."
Growing commercial activity at the 74-year-old island airport has prompoted concern among waterfront residents for more than a decade, but the latest round of opposition was sparked by Porter's April 10 announcement of the conditional purchase of up to 30 CS100 jet planes from Bombardier.
The airline plans to use the new jets to reach destinations too far for its current turboprop fleet. According to Cicero, the addition of the new destinations could see 3.4 million passengers coming through the airport annually by 2020 or 2021, up from the current 2 million.
In order to fly the planes out of Billy Bishop, the jet ban would have to be lifted and the main runway extended by 336 metres. For that to happen, Porter would need the consent of all three signatories to the agreement that governs the airport; the city, the federal government, and the Toronto Port Authority.
Porter is pressuring council to approve changes to the agreement by July, a timeline that critics say is much too short to allow for a comprehensive study of the expansion proposal.