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Port authority supports jets at island airport, but with conditions

A Porter Airlines plane landing at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on April 9, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The operator of Toronto's downtown airport is willing to support commercial jets at the facility.

In the first detailed explanation of the Toronto Port Authority's stance on the proposal floated by Porter Airlines, TPA chairman Mark McQueen laid out the specific criteria that the jets would have to satisfy. Among them, they can't exceed the current noise regulations and there can't be a negative impact on the environment.

He also stressed that his organization would only consider the question seriously provided city council supports the proposal, which would require re-opening a 30-year-old agreement between the city, the TPA and Transport Canada that governs use of the island airport.

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"The TPA's task is to ensure that the airport's operations fit into, and not dominate, Toronto's lively waterfront and south-core area," Mr. McQueen told a lunchtime audience at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

"The airport's a success, and that success deserves to be embraced. But, as the airport's operator, we recognize that we have to get this right, while doing no harm."

Jets were specifically banned before Porter began operating at the island. President and CEO Robert Deluce is hoping, though, that his company will be permitted to use a new Bombardier plane, the CS100, that he likes to call a "whisper jet." The proposal has sparked a mixed reaction at city hall and among the public and has galvanized opponents.

In his speech, Mr. McQueen went into detail, laying out what he said would be the basis for the TPA deciding whether to support Porter's proposal. Stressing that these were "in no particular order," he cited noise levels, better use of flight slots, environment impact, effect on livability, improved vehicle flows, a business case and growing the city's economy.

Mr. McQueen also took the opportunity to launch a series of broadsides at critics of the proposal. He called it "the definition of irony" that some were using social media, a new technology, to criticize jets while ignoring that aviation technology has changed as well. And he dismissed those who would use "fairy-tale suggestions" to argue against changes at the airport.

Opponents were quick to note the incongruity of delivering a speech entitled "do no harm" that was peppered with criticisms of those who disagree.

"That, to me, sounds like they are supporting Porter plans, but they're not coming out and saying it," Anshul Kapoor, Chair of NoJets TO, told reporters.

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Offered the chance to respond to this criticism, Mr. McQueen said by e-mail that the TPA "takes no position on Porter's business aspirations" and that they support what is best for its "key stakeholders: the community around the airport and those travel through it."

Mr. Kapoor's group does not oppose the status quo at the airport but is worried about expansion and what that would do for pollution, traffic, noise and quality of life.

Brian Iler, the head of another opposition group, Community Air, said that the TPA is doing "everything they can to support Porter" and called into question the value of an island airport once a rail link to Pearson begins operating.

"It becomes irrelevant, doesn't it?" he said. "Because with a fast link to Pearson, and with Pearson having lots of capacity, there's really no need for this airport."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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