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McCarthy: Which Way to Downtown?

Porter Airlines is scheduled to start service out of the Toronto City Centre Airport this fall.


September 27, 2007
Stacy Bradshaw

Topics

Start-up airlines face formidable challenges. High capital investment,
rapidly changing markets and intense competition can rattle all but the
most intrepid entrepreneurs. But starting a new airline in the face of
environmental review challenges, injunction battles and intense city
hall opposition, just so you can take on the country’s largest airline
right in its own backyard, well, that’s just crazy. Isn’t it?

We‘re
about to find out, as Robert Deluce’s Porter Airlines Inc. plans to
start service from Toronto City Centre Airport (YTZ) this fall. Civic
opposition to the airline and YTZ expansion has been strong. Deluce’s
last attempt at the project became the most important issue in
Toronto’s 2003 municipal election. On election night, Toronto mayor
David Miller hoisted a broom over his head to symbolize his impending
“clean sweep of city hall.” The fixed link between the island airport
and the city proper was one of the first projects to be whisked away.
In response to the cancellation, Deluce threatened legal action. When
all was said and done, Miller’s cleaning frenzy had cost Canadian
taxpayers $35 million.

Now two-and-a-half-years later Deluce is
making another run at it. The idea that reinvigorated economic activity
at the island airport could ever help the city financially seems
foreign to the downtown politicos. A mostly unsympathetic Toronto media
has shied away from reporting that REGCO (Porter Airlines Inc.’s parent
company) has estimated that 500 jobs will be created at the island
airport, and $800 million in economic benefits a year will be generated
downtown. And, the Bombardier Q-400s, which will make up Porter’s
fleet, are being built in Downsview.

Yet, a local interest
group, CommunityAir, claims the airline will benefit only “a handful of
private interests” and the area’s NDP MP, Olivia Chow, wants the
federal government to transfer control of the airport lands to the
city. CommunityAir has complained about potential air and noise
pollution, but the Q-400 is a clean aircraft with noise levels that
fall well below FAR 36 and ICAO Annex 16 Ch 3. requirements. What’s
more, it has reduced engine emissions at 40% below Part 34 requirements
for smoke number and 40% below ICAO Annex 16 requirements for gaseous
emission.

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CommunityAir says Porter should set up shop at
Pearson. They argue that the planned rail link, Blue22, connecting
Pearson to Union Station, renders the island airport unnecessary.
Blue22 is scheduled to begin operation between 2008 and 2010, but it
too has run up against civic opposition. Rallying behind the slogan,
“Kill Blue22!” a group called the Weston Community Coalition is
fighting the project.

It’s been estimated that Blue22 could
eliminate up to 1.5 million car trips annually. How many of those trips
could also be eliminated by Porter’s operations? What percentage of
travellers would no longer be sitting in single-passenger taxis or
private vehicles, idling in polluting gridlock? Moving travellers
efficiently from airport to downtown benefits everyone. In Toronto,
there are two distinct ways of doing it. Blue22 is one of them, Porter
is the other. They should both fly.