Strategic Planning: Setting the Course for the Island Airport

Former GTAA Planner: TPA Needs to Define Vision with Balance in Mind, and Porter's Growth Should Fit Within that Vision Wikimedia_Photo_Toronto_Harbour_2013-12-01TORONTO - Strategic planning is a process that is undertaken to help an organization determine its future. It involves clearly defining the organization's vision and mission along with an assessment of its current state and overall business setting. A strategic plan is a record of the results of this process that also contains metrics (known as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs) and targets that allow the organization to quantitatively assess its performance in specific areas. Management and staff use strategic plans to make decisions, allocate resources and inform stakeholders. In the case of the airport that is owned by the public sector the stakeholders include the signatories to the Tri Partite Agreement and those who conduct business at the airport, are affected by the airport, use the airport or can influence its direction. Billy Bishop is a small but complex airport. It is on an island located in the midst of a dense business and residential population; the land is owned by three different public organizations each having its own objectives; airport operations impact the critical groundside system but the airport operator does not control it; it has a finite life by the Tripartite Agreement and it is nearing, if not having already surpassed, its optimum capacity. Under these conditions it is critical for the Toronto Port Authority to have strategic plan and associated KPIs. Unfortunately it doesn’t. Its vision and mission statements are very general providing little guidance or on going information. Porter is now proposing that the TPA extend the runways to enable it to offer flights to destinations well beyond the limits of the Q400 aircraft. Ideally, Porter should have been able to develop its proposal within the context of a strategic plan. Had such a plan existed the proposal may not have seen the light of day. Even after it was tabled the TPA could have paused and taken the time to examine the airport’s future and role. Rather, in Mr. Wilson’s words, the TPA has “for the most part stayed out of the jets debate.“ Given that each of the proposal’s four elements (extending the runway beyond the existing shore of the island, serving long haul destinations, using larger aircraft and introducing jets) is a significant change from the airport’s current operation, it is difficult to imagine any situation more important than this that would motivate the TPA to be leading the discussion. Recently the TPA offered to maintain existing safeguards and conduct an environmental assessment “should a positive decision be rendered by Council.” This is too late. Environmental assessments examine the scope and impact of an entire project and are an input into decisions before they are made. Council needs to know the answers to the issues that would be raised in an environmental assessment before it can make an informed decision. The island airport serves a niche short-haul market that benefits those living or working in the core or along the lake, areas that are closer to island airport than Pearson. As the length of a flight increases, the ground travel time advantage of the island airport decreases when considering total trip time. Flights to the US would be longer as travelers would also have to clear customs on arrival. Therefore for long- haul flights the island airport would provide marginal or no time savings or even longer times over flights to the same destinations served by Pearson. Porter will likely not serve any destination not served from Pearson nor will it offer lower prices since other carriers will match their fares. Additionally, long-haul flights will decrease the capacity available for short-haul routes that will in turn diminish the island airport’s ability to serve the niche market that Porter has successfully developed and is beneficial to the GTA. Because aviation assets in the city are limited it is important they be used to their best advantage and in a manner that best serves the population as a whole. Long haul flights to a few select destinations from the island only serves the vested interest of Porter and the TPA. The island airport is important but parameters need to be in place to optimize all the region’s aviation assets AND provide a suitable balance between the needs of travelers, neighbouring communities and waterfront development. There is a finite capacity to the city’s aviation assets so the airports must to continue to operate and operate in a complementary manner. This comes down to putting the air transportation needs of the public ahead of the commercial needs of the airports and airports. The island is ideally suited for short haul flights serving the concentrated surrounding market; Pearson with its wide range of long haul and international services is eastern Canada’s gateway to the world. YTZ will never be large enough to supplant that role and in trying to do so will only impede what it does best – serving short haul markets. Several public spaces - Ontario Place, Music Garden, Harbourfront Centre and others coming with Waterfront Redevelopment- also have a legitimate stake in area that must be balanced with the needs of travellers. To achieve the balance I suggest the following: 1. Establish a perimeter rule prohibiting flights in excess of a certain distance. i.e.the role of the airport is to serve short haul flights. This concept is in place at Reagan National Airport in Washington and LaGuardia Airport in New York. Study would be needed to determine the distance appropriate for YTZ. 2. Implement a noise management quota system along the lines of the one used at London Heathrow or other European airports in which limits are placed on both the annual number of flights and the cumulative noise dosage. This would be a new approach in Canada but is necessary to provide a system that is easily understood and can be monitored continuously. Related to this is the need to develop KPIs such as peak hour capacity in other operational areas that are relevant to the various external constituents. 3. Prohibit expansion beyond existing airport land boundaries with the exception of any increase in runway length required to meet revised safety standards. As a private enterprise Porter’s objective is to maximize shareholder returns. The TPA is the custodian of a public facility with the implicit responsibility to operate it profitably and to the good of the public. The starting point is a strategic plan. Without one I am reminded of the pilot who announces to his passengers “Ladies and gentlemen I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we are making very good time. The bad news is that we are lost.” ______________________ Background and Disclaimer:
Tom Driedger worked in the airport industry for over 40 years. Beginning with Transport Canada in Ottawa he held positions in Vancouver and Edmonton before moving to Toronto and later transferring to Greater Toronto Airports Authority in 1996. He retired in 2013 as Senior Manager, Strategic Planning. NoJetsTO met with Mr Driedger. In his view Porter’s project has its four distinct elements, each with it own set of problems (runway expansion, long haul flights, larger capacity aircraft and jet powered planes) making it inappropriate for the type of airport he envisions. In his words “the objective is not to find ways of creating the biggest airport and shoehorning it into a confined space. Rather it is to define the size and type of airport most compatible with the best overall plan for the city & local area and then live within those bounds.” Given the considerable common ground between our views and those of Mr Driedger, we are posting some of his background notes. These views are his and his alone. They do not represent the views of Transport Canada, and/or the GTAA .