Toronto Star Op-Ed: Porter Should Fly Jets From Pearson
Air Canada CEO Invites Porter to Join 65 Jet Airlines at Pearson in Op-Ed TORONTO - Toronto City Council will soon consider whether to proceed with a multimillion-dollar proposal to extend the runway at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and allow jet aircraft, despite the various community concerns voiced so far. When they do, let’s hope that reason prevails over private corporate interest. While Air Canada generally supports the concept of expansion at Billy Bishop airport, we have very serious concerns about the current proposal by Porter Airlines that will be before the council’s executive committee on March 25. Billy Bishop airport is a public facility that has been handed over to a private operator, Porter Airlines, which owns the terminal building and controls more than 85 per cent of the slots. Air Canada wants to expand our access at Billy Bishop but we have been rebuffed in our numerous attempts to increase service, something we encounter nowhere else in the country or indeed the world. In fact, most airports aggressively lobby us to increase service. The answer that we and other airlines have been given is that the island airport is “at capacity” and that there are simply no slots available. It is in this slot-constrained, virtual monopoly context that Porter has made a proposal to extend the runway at the airport and to allow jets to use the facility. However, in the public documents from the city on this proposal is a unique twist — there is a discussion of fixing slot and passenger capacities in the Tripartite Agreement, the document that governs Billy Bishop airport. Such a measure would permanently entrench Porter’s monopoly on the airport. If Porter was granted the ability to use jets without any increase in slot growth, this means that current communities being served by Porter (e.g. Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Halifax) could be dropped to make room for new routes from among the proposed destinations listed on their website. In addition, with jets doubling the passenger capacity, a passenger cap would in fact suggest that the total number of available slots would actually decrease, rather than increase. City staff estimate that between $100 million and $300 million of infrastructure upgrades would be required on the city side of the airport in addition to the millions of dollars in infrastructure needed on the island which would be paid by passenger levies. There is no available source of funds for this infrastructure, which would have to be financed by the city or other levels of government. This is up to a third of a billion dollars to finance infrastructure upgrades for a facility that is essentially used by a single, privately held company. There is no urgency here. Porter is free to fly jets from Toronto’s Pearson airport at any time it wishes under the same conditions that are applicable to the 65 airlines that operate at Pearson. There is now more incentive than ever to do so as a brand new rail link — the Union Pearson Express opening in spring 2015 — will shorten the travel time between downtown Toronto and Pearson to 25 minutes. City staff have been challenged in their efforts to obtain adequate information and documentation in their study of the proposal, and have asked for the necessary time to gather this information and make an informed analysis. To this end, they have recommended that this be put over until May 2015. In the circumstances, Air Canada believes this is the right path for city council to choose. Calin Rovinescu is President and CEO of Air Canada.