Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (BBTCA) is a small airport located on the Toronto Islands in Toronto, Ontario. Canada’s ninth busiest airport, the BBTCA currently accommodates more than two million business and leisure travelers annually. It also has the distinction of being the only airport located entirely within Toronto’s boundaries.
In 1983, the City of Toronto, the Toronto Harbour Commission, now known as the Toronto Port Authority (TPA), and the Government of Canada signed a fifty-year tripartite agreement. Amongst other stipulations, the agreement restricted the list of aircrafts that would be allowed to use the airport based on noise levels. It also prohibited jet traffic, except for MEDIVAC flights. This means that currently, only turboprop planes are allowed into the downtown airport.
However, Porter Airlines, a regional airline that uses the BBTCA as its main operating base, wants to change this restriction. To expand its operations to service further destinations, Porter Airlines has requested approval from city council to amend the tripartite agreement. It is requesting a 336-metre runway expansion and to use Bombardier CS100 jets.
The airport currently generates about $1.9 billion dollars in annual economic output for the Greater Toronto Area, and the expansion plan seems like a good idea. Porter’s president and CEO, Robert Deluce is optimistic that the airport expansion will create more jobs, and allow Porter to reach more distant destinations, like Los Angeles and Vancouver. Increased passenger and business travelers means more money will be pouring into downtown Toronto, and stimulate economic growth and prosperity.
On the flip side, there needs to be consideration for the social, health, and environmental impact that would follow an airport expansion.
Congestion is already a huge concern in the surrounding neighbourhood with the current two million passengers. If jets were to be allowed, how can existing infrastructure accommodate the increase in passengers and additional fuel trucks to supply the larger fuel storage tanks of the new Bombardier jets?
Furthermore, increased encroachment of runways and exclusion zones into the harbor can have a potentially detrimental effect on the recreational activities beloved by the people of Toronto. Boating and sailing enthusiasts might be victims of the effects of jet blast. Visitors to the Toronto Islands will lament the loss of precious park space.
From an environmental standpoint, there needs to be further studies completed on the impact of jet planes and construction activities on migratory birds and underwater animals who call Lake Ontario home. As the new Bombardier C-series aircraft that Porter intends to acquire are still in the development phase, all data and specifications are only estimates and subject to change. Currently, no studies have yet been done on the health impacts of emissions on the new jets. One might then wonder, how the emissions from the new jet planes will affect the health of local residents and children who go to school near the airport?
Many infrastructure expansion decisions are complex and complicated. While short term economic gains are apparent, the long term social and economic costs are less clear.
Undeniably, having an airport right downtown is a great marketing pitch for Toronto. Not to mention the economic benefits of job creation as a result of construction and increased operations as a result of the airport expansion. But is it worth the risk of compromising the integrity of the city’s Waterfront and the health and wellbeing of the community?
Credits: Image by Becky Loi. Data linked to sources.