Toronto

Commercial service at Billy Bishop airport back up and running after 18-month shutdown

It was wheels up for the first time in nearly two years at Toronto's island airport on Wednesday.

Toronto’s island airport reopens as Porter makes plans to expand to Pearson

The first flights in 18 months took off Wednesday from Billy Bishop airport. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Commercial service at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is back after an 18-month pause due to the pandemic. 

"To say that this is a momentous day is probably an understatement," said Geoffrey Wilson, the CEO for PortsToronto, the agency that owns and operates Billy Bishop.

Toronto Mayor John Tory was also on hand for the occasion, calling the reopening a sign of hope and a reason for optimism. 

"We are making progress along that path towards a more normal life," Tory said. 

Wilson also said the restart date of Sept. 8 was particularly significant because it's the 82nd anniversary of the first commercial flight ever to arrive at Toronto's island airport. 

Routes coming back in stages 

Porter Airlines will be resuming its flights in stages with routes to Montreal, Ottawa and Thunder Bay starting up first. 

Air Canada, the other airline that uses the airport, restarts its Montreal route on Wednesday as well. 

Porter announced last month that staff would need to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative for the novel coronavirus before the start of every shift, adding that policy could evolve as details are released on Ottawa's plan to mandate vaccination for all federally regulated workers. 

Air Canada has taken an even harder line, deciding not to offer rapid testing as an alternative for employees who refuse to be vaccinated and threatening unpaid leave or termination for workers who don't have their shots by the end of October. 

"We're still in a pandemic, we've got to be vigilant. We've got to make sure people are safe and vaccinated," said Wilson on Wednesday. 

Expansion to Pearson up ahead

Billy Bishop is reopening as Porter prepares to expand its business to Pearson International Airport — entering a new phase of competition with Canada's bigger airlines. 

In July, the company placed an order for up to 80 new jets from the Brazilian aviation firm Embraer to be used at Pearson, with Porter president and CEO Michael Deluce saying at the time he saw opportunities to service the southern U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico.

Several years ago, Porter tried to get clearance to fly passenger jets out of Billy Bishop but that bid was scuttled due to opposition from waterfront residents and the newly elected federal Liberals in 2015.

The airline also plans to continue to use Billy Bishop for flights with its existing fleet of turboprop aircraft. 

Though Porter opted to take a federal loan over the summer to help its post-pandemic recovery, Deluce said on Wednesday that the company had entered the pandemic with a "very strong balance sheet."

"That allowed us to make the choice to purchase some new aircraft," Deluce said. "Really, it is a vision beyond the pandemic in 2022."

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