Airport expansion vote: both sides claim victory

Council votes to negotiate with Porter Airlines about expanding Billy Bishop airport, but only after a series of strict conditions are met.

Porter Airlines proposal won't come this year as city sets list of conditions

Porter Airlines is expanding to Fredericton and Saint John (David Donnelly/CBC)

Many city hall watchers found it curious that both sides claimed victory after Tuesday's vote on Porter Airlines' proposal to expand the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

The vote, which passed unanimously, allows the city to negotiate with Porter about lengthening the runway at the island airport but only under a series of preconditions that ensures the proposal won't be voted on until next year at the earliest.

Porter wants the airport expanded so it can fly jets from the island. The move would allow the company to expand its route network beyond northeastern North America to the west coast and the Caribbean. Porter currently serves its destinations using turboprop planes but a runway expanded by about 200 metres on each end would clear the way for C-series Bombardier jets to operate there.

Porter CEO Robert Deluce, who has been waging a fierce public relations war with waterfront residents opposed to a longer runway, said Tuesday's vote provides a "clear way forward" for expansion.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly made similar comments to reporters on Wednesday.

"We kept the modernization of the airport alive," he said. "In fact we advanced it."

Airport expansion opponents also claim they won

Opponents of the plan, however, were cheering and high-fiving each other after Tuesday's vote.

Airport expansion opponent Coun. Adam Vaughan said the vote requires Porter to meet a long list of strict preconditions  so onerous they effectively make the prospect of expansion unlikely.

The conditions require everything from environmental assessments, to detailed plans about the runway configuration, to guarantees that a longer runway will not infringe on the safety zone for boats sailing around the island airport.

Council also voted to ensure that any extra infrastructure upgrades — estimated at $300 million — are not paid by taxpayers but by passengers who use the airport.

"All of those promises Mr. Deluce has made have now been made into conditions for any future conversation," said Vaughan on Metro Morning Wednesday.

"The threat of jets is not on the horizon," he said. "The conditions will never be met and we cannot expand that airport."

Vaughan also said council's vote requires Deluce to address traffic congestion problems he says have caused headaches for residents at the foot of Bathurst Street as Porter's service has grown to 2.3 million passengers a year. The city wants the growth limited to 2.7 million passengers a year.