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Porter CEO backs off a bit on Island Airport expansion plan

Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines, is now supporting the city staff’s process for consideration of an expansion of the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Porter Airlines chief executive officer Robert Deluce accepts that a future council will have the final say on whether to allow an Island Airport expansion, even though the uncertainty that raises may require "some discussion" with Bombardier as payments approach on the jet he wants to fly.

Mr. Deluce said he would not be pushing for conditional approval of his expansion plan when the matter comes to city council next week. Instead, he offered backing for the protracted process suggested by city staff.

"That framework that they've laid out is one that we now support," he said Friday after a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

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"I think if we can look forward potentially to a similar level of support from council that we got from executive committee, then I think that'll set us on a nice course toward, you know, a more definitive path in terms of approval."

Porter would like to have the main runway at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport extended by 400 metres, allowing the airline to fly longer-range CS100 jets in addition to the regional Q400 turbo-prop. Proponents point to the economic advantages and convenience of expansion while opponents say it would have permanent negative effects on the waterfront.

City staff recommended last week that Toronto, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority, which owns and operates the airport, work through a series of issues related to expansion. Only after those are settled would suggested changes to the agreement governing airport use – which currently bans jets – be presented to council for a vote.

An attempt earlier this week by Mayor Rob Ford to push conditional approval through at the executive committee failed resoundingly. Instead, council will vote next week on the staff recommendations, which include hard caps on passengers and flights, say the current noise limits must stay in place and require that there be no "material" effect on boater exclusion zones near the runway.

If that vote goes through, Deputy City Manager John Livey has said the talks can be expected to take time and that he did not expect the matter to come back before council until next year.

City staff say jet operations are unlikely before 2017 or 2018, if final approval ultimately is given.

On Friday, though, Mr. Deluce was more optimistic. In spite of the delay before the matter comes back to council – a period during which the city has said construction on an extended runway cannot occur –he remained confident that his airline would be able to meet their target of flying jets off the island some time in 2016.

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However, he acknowledged that the lack of certainty presented by the need for another council vote may have an impact on non-refundable payments that must start to flow soon to plane-maker Bombardier. "That is one of the ramifications that we're considering and we'll certainly have to have some discussion with Bombardier," he said. "We've not have that discussion yet."

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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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