Airport expansion proposal still undecided by city council

Toronto city council has voted to further study Porter Airlines' proposal to expand Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Council voted on staff report about airport expansion, deciding to look into the matter more closely

Council still has yet to decide if jets will be allowed to fly out of Bill Bishop Airport on Toronto Island. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The debate over a Porter Airlines' proposal to expand Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport took off again today from city council, but no final decisions were made.

Porter, a regional airline, currently operates turboprop planes from the airport but wants the runway extended to allow jets to operate there.

The meeting Tuesday night concluded with a unanimous vote, though not a definitive one. Council instead voted to look at the issue more closely.

Porter is viewing this as a victory given the fact council could have eliminated the possibility of jets at the island airport.

However, opponents to the plan are also claiming the Tuesday night’s vote as a win.

“It’s a definite victory for grassroots groups in Toronto that multimillion dollar campaigns and lobbying campaigns do not define out city,” said a spokesperson from No Jets TO.

Last week, the city's executive committee voted against giving the plan an immediate endorsement. Instead, the committee agreed with city staff that more detailed information about the proposal is needed before the plan is endorsed.

A city staff report pointed to a number of unanswered questions about the expansion proposal, including a lack of environmental assessments, the absence of a detailed runway plan and the need for more information about the noise the Bombardier C-Series jets would create.

Council will now sit down with the port authority and federal government to talk about issues like noise, runway designs, caps on passengers and the impact on the environment in the months ahead.

'Pivotal point'

Toronto’s Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly says this means things are moving forward.

“I’m hoping that an objective assessment of those issues will result in a report that says there’s no reason why you can’t go ahead,” Kelly said.

Mayor Rob Ford, in favour of the jets, was quiet today on the issue. According to his brother Doug Ford, the mayor injured his back while at the gym.

Coun. Adam Vaughan said he does not like Porter's plans and that they will cause congestion and disrupt the neighbourhood at the bottom of Bathurst Street.  He has encouraged others to add their concerns to the discussion.

“The federal government and the Port Authority have to take responsibility for the mess they've made on our waterfront and to stop doing things that help one particular individual over an entire community of interests and for that I make no apology and I'm celebrating tonight,” Vaughan said.

Porter president and CEO Robert Deluce says the expansion would bring jobs to the city and allow Porter to reach more distant destinations, such as Vancouver and San Francisco.

Opponents are concerned about noise and the environmental impacts of allowing jets.

"We're at a pivotal point," said Deluce Tuesday in an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "Many passengers have asked us to extend the Porter service a bit further," he said.

Groups on both sides of the debate have been waging a full-scale media war. Anti-airport expansion group No Jets T.O. has purchased a full-page newspaper ad that ran today. It features the headline "Our Waterfront is priceless, why give it away?"

Deluce said No Jets T.O., along with "certain politicians and our competitors" are "purposely misleading the public."

"We welcome the scrutiny of a thorough review to shed full light on the questions being raised," he said. "We're invested in telling people about the facts of our proposal."

As for when a final decision will be made, council says it won’t happen until 2015 at the earliest, if further studies and regulatory approvals are completed by then  

Below is a map of the traffic flow at the bottom of Bathurst Street. Complaints about heavy flow of traffic around the entrance of the airport relate to taxis and other pick-ups and drop-offs in this area.