Toronto Star: Port Authority Accuses City of Trying to Block Jet Plan

TPA Lashes Out Against City Staff in Letter to Rob Ford, Norm Kelly and Councillors Wikimedia_Photo_Toronto_Harbour_Commission_Building_2013-12-01TORONTO - The Toronto Port Authority is accusing city staff of making unreasonable demands that will essentially thwart approval plans for Porter Airlines to fly jets from the island airport. In a March 10 letter to Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and all city councilors, port authority chair Mark McQueen says recent city staff requests on takeoff and landings slots as well as restricting commercial flights on weekends and holidays would “affect the long-term viability of the airport.” Calling them “poison pills,” McQueen said they “serve to ensure that neither the TPA nor federal government will be able to approve the Porter proposal, should these new conditions be ultimately required by Toronto city council.” Poison pills are devices used by companies to prevent a hostile takeover by making a stock less attractive. Last April, Porter Airlines said it had placed a conditional order to fly Bombardier’s new CSeries planes from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which would allow the regional carrier to fly to cities farther afield like Vancouver and Miami. However, Porter must win approval from the city, the port authority and Transport Canada to lift an existing jet ban as well as extend the runaway as much as 200 metres at each end. City officials have been studying the proposal, and has hired outside experts to offer opinions to the tune of $1.2 million, which was paid for by the port authority. Officials have urged city councillors to put off making any decision until March 2015, after October’s municipal election, citing too many unknowns including noise levels of the CSeries jet that hasn’t received certification yet and transportation challenges at the foot of Bathurst St. A deferral vote would be an easy out for politicians, given it is an election year, but Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly are both in favour of jets at the airport, and the item is slated to be debated at the March 25 executive committee meeting. The port authority letter also says the city has proposed a commitment that no additional commercial slots be granted, which the port authority opposes. While the port authority says it currently has no intention to increase the current 202 daily slots, but it doesn’t mean that “new commercial slots are off the table forever.” The letter also said the port authority would be willing to set an interim hourly cap of 20 landings or takeoffs, to mitigate traffic concerns around the airport, and ensure an annual cap of 2.976 million airport passengers, not counting connecting traffic, while infrastructure improvements are made. However, the port authority says it is balking at the city’s demand that the agreement be written into the tripartite agreement that governs airport operations, instead of a separate agreement. When asked for an interview with port authority officials to elaborate on their opposition to city demands, The Star was told key officials including McQueen and president Geoff Wilson were away on vacation. Christopher Dunn, the city’s project manager on the Porter review, declined to comment saying a staff report to executive committee, due out next week, would address the issues. Councillor Adam Vaughan charged that the port authority is making a political play instead of answering the city’s concerns about traffic, noise, funding and environmental worries. “As the city asks for certainty, what you get from the port authority is political plays,” Vaughan said. “The analogy is they have asked us to buy a house, but they won’t tell us the location, the price, the number of bedrooms and every time, we try to put in protections, or scope, they go to the public and complain they are being scoped.” Vaughan added, “It is absurd than any attempt to protect the public interest is seen as a poison pill.” Porter spokesman Brad Cicero said the airline supports the idea of interim passenger and flight caps until the infrastructure is in place. “I don’t think there is any expectation that there would be unlimited growth ever at this airport,” he said, adding an hourly cap of up to a combination of 20 takeoffs or landings during peak times would be acceptable. Right now, at peak times, Porter uses about 15 slots. Cicero added the city and the port authority are in discussions, and both groups need to compromise “if you are going to have a reasonable solution.” Anshul Kapoor, chair of NoJetsTO, a citizens’ group opposed to jet expansion, charged the port authority has not fully addressed city staff’s concerns from safety to impact on lake water. “Now they are trying to position the city staff as the wrong doers,” he said in an email. “This rogue agency is like a spoiled brat who has gotten their way in the past and keeps trying to get their way by crying foul to their pals (Norm Kelly and Mayor Ford).” Source: Toronto Star article by Vanessa Lu, published 2014-03-12