Toronto Star: Port Authority Launches $3 Million in Studies for Jets
TPA Denies Taking Position on Island Airport Expansion Despite Massive Price Tag for 'Studies' TORONTO - The Toronto Port Authority insists it is taking no position on Porter Airlines’ proposed jet expansion at the Toronto island airport, even though it is spending $3 million on a series of key studies.
That was the message port authority CEO Geoff Wilson delivered during the federal agency’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, where he was peppered with questions about Porter’s proposal, engine noise and traffic congestion near the airport.
City council has deferred any decision on whether to allow Bombardier’s CSeries jets to fly out of Billy Bishop airport until next year, but in the meantime the port authority is moving ahead with an environmental assessment, preliminary runway design study and airport master plans.
The port authority is footing the bill for the studies, estimated at $1.25 million for the environmental assessment, $1.5 million for the runway design and $250,000 for master plans, though costs could increase once work begins.
“This is work that can and should be done so that city council would have all the information they need,” said Wilson in an interview after the meeting. “They want to see an EA and the runway design. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
Any move to allow jets would require the approval of the city, the port authority and Transport Canada.
Norman Di Pasquale, acting chair of NoJetsTO, a citizens’ group opposed to the Porter expansion plan, waved an Aug. 27, 2013, letter from port authority executive vice-president Gene Cabral to Transport Canada about a runway extension.
The letter, which was obtained by the group under the Access to Information Act, asks for a review that the expansion program is technically feasible, and added the port authority would be seeking Transport Canada’s “approval in principle” of the proposed expansion program.
Wilson dismissed the suggestion that the port authority was looking for approval for a plan before city council even considered it, saying as the airport operator, it would need to submit a runway extension plan, rather than the airline.
“It is our obligation to send it through,” he said. “We become the mailman in sending the letter through.”
Other projects are continuing at the port authority, including the pedestrian tunnel to the airport, which is slated for completion in early February, with an official opening expected in March.
Port authority chair Mark McQueen announced at the meeting that he will step down from his post when the tunnel is completed after seven years in the job. He has been appointed as chair of the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority, which will oversee construction of new span linking those two cities.
Porter Aviation Holdings, the parent company of Porter Airlines, is also looking for buyer for the passenger terminal building at the airport. It has hired Barclays Capital Canada and RBC Capital Markets to lead the process that is expected to last four months.
When asked whether the sale was related to the need for cash, Porter Airlines spokesman Brad Cicero dismissed the suggestion, saying the terminal was an investment to help build infrastructure to facilitate the airline’s growth.
“We believe there will be a certain level of interest, not just potential buyers in Canada, but around the world that will appreciate the value of these assets,” Cicero said, adding that the proceeds could go toward the purchase of aircraft.
“The airline will still be here. We would have a lease to stay in the terminal long term,” he said.
While some speculate the sale is related to Porter’s need for capital, Cicero dismissed that notion, saying opponents have raised questions about the airline’s financial sustainability since 2006.
“Eight years later, here we are. We intend to be here for the long term,” he said.