Airport expansion debate draws 190 speakers

The city of Toronto's executive committee will today debate Porter Airlines' controversial proposal to expand the runway at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Proposal to expand Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport before city's executive committee

Porter Airlines wants to expand the runway at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport so the company can add jets to its fleet and reach more destinations. Opponents say the plan would create noise, pollution and safety issues. (David Donnelly/CBC)

About 190 people were scheduled to speak at the city's executive committee meeting today about Porter Airlines' controversial proposal to extend the runway at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Porter wants the expansion so the company can operate Bombardier CS-100 jets from the downtown island airport. Such a move would allow the regional airline — which currently only uses Turboprop planes — to serve destinations beyond its current routes in Ontario, eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.

A city report presented to executive committee last week calls for limits —  largely in the form of caps to passenger volume — to control growth at the airport. The report also points to a number of unanswered questions about the project, such the need for an environmental assessment and the lack of a detailed runway design.

It's this staff report that executive committee is considering at Tuesday's meeting, though no decision is expected. However a favourable response from the 13-member executive committee could see Porter's plan go to a council vote as early as next month.

A handful of the 190 people who spoke — or who are scheduled to speak — are Porter employees. Porter CEO Robert Deluce spoke before the noon break and said allowing jets to operate at the airport would mean 2,000 new jobs. He also said 500 waterfront residents have signed a petition in favour of expanding the runway.

But opponents of the plan were also out in force. One woman used her time at the mic to sing an anti-expansion protest song to the tune of the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies.

An earlier staff report said council should delay any vote on the airport's future until next year.

That would mean the decision would come after the Oct. 27 election, when the composition of council could drastically change.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has said he'd like to see council vote on the plan before the election.

Even without expansion, passenger volume at the airport has surged in recent years, from 26,000 passengers in 2006 to 2.3 million in 2012. Porter's service has proven popular, particularly with business passengers who can travel to  destinations such as Ottawa, New York and Chicago without having to first go to Pearson International Airport.

Opponents who live near the lake, however, say expanding the airport would create noise, pollution and safety issues.


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