Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Go ahead, ground Porter's plans for jets at the Toronto island airport, see if I care

A  Porter Airlines plane lands next to a taxiing plane at Toronto's Island Airport on Friday, November 13, 2015.
A Porter Airlines plane lands next to a taxiing plane at Toronto's Island Airport on Friday, November 13, 2015.

After new federal transportation minister Marc Garneau announced recently that he wouldn’t reopen the tripartite agreement governing Billy Bishop Island Airport — grounding Porter Airlines’ controversial plan to fly jets — some observers seemed to take the news pretty hard.

“What happened to fact-based decision making on island airport?” lamented a Toronto Star editorial. Others saw the move as an affront to free enterprise, patriotism and our god-given right to fly long distances from the island without having to connect in dirty old Newark.

Even as a guy who frequently flies Porter, I’m not sympathetic. No one should be crying over the island airport.

First, it should have come as no surprise that the new government is opposed to the jet plan. That writing was on the wall the moment they recruited airport foe Adam Vaughan to run for the party.

Second, it’s important to remember that the process that led to this point was hardly reasonable and evidence-based.

The whole notion of using jets emerged out of nowhere when Porter CEO Robert Deluce penned a letter to then-mayor Rob Ford on April 22, 2013 asking council to simply vote — within three months — for an exemption to the commercial jet ban on the island.

The request sent public servants and consultants down a rabbit hole that produced hundreds of questions about the logistics of airport expansion.

And don’t be fooled: Expansion was always the real issue. Had Porter been able to swap out their existing prop planes for quiet jets with no material changes to the airport and with no increase to passenger volume, I’d be hard pressed to care.

But with jets come expanded runways, and a lot more passengers. In a March presentation, PortsToronto projected future annual passenger volumes would increase from a peak of 2.7 million with the status quo to 4.1 million with jets.

Those extra passengers would tax nearby infrastructure. In 2013, city staff estimated preliminary costs of up to $300 million to expand and widen roads near the airport. It’s doubtful that any of those changes would be compatible with Waterfront Toronto’s revitalization vision.

It’s also unclear who would pay that bill — but you can make a pretty good guess.
All this, it should be noted, is evidence. As much as some have complained that Garneau circumvented an evidence-based process, there’s no shortage of data in this debate.

What’s missing is a compelling reason to go forward. From day one, Porter short-changed this process with unrealistic timelines and a sales pitch that underplayed the logistics and costs of expansion.

If Deluce wants to try again — with studies conducted on Porter’s dime — then nothing precludes that. But until then, I’m just fine leaving his plans on the ground.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-11-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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