The head of the federal agency responsible for Toronto's island airport has gone on the offensive in response to allegations made by two city councillors that the agency is working hand-in-glove with Porter Airlines on its plans to expand the runway.
Toronto Port Authority chairman Mark McQueen says in a letter to the councillors that he is "very disappointed" with their suggestion that the agency "may have lied to your face."
The controversy revolves around the Port Authority's plans to fill in the marine zone in the harbour with rock and sediment excavated from the construction of a pedestrian tunnel connecting the island airport to the mainland.
Residents of the waterfront and some councillors have questioned whether the Port Authority's proposal to dump excavated soil into the harbour off Billy Bishop Airport is really a "ploy" to extend the runway.
Filling in the harbour at the east end of Billy Bishop – the so-called marine exclusion zone off limits to boats – will enhance safety by creating a physical buffer so boats cannot get too close to the airport, Mr. McQueen said in the letter, posted on the Port Authority's website. The lakefill project has nothing to do with Porter Airlines' announcement last week that it plans to buy jets capable of long-haul flights and lengthen the island airport's runway, the letter said.
Mr. McQueen declined to comment on Wednesday. He was responding in his letter dated April 15 to public comments made by Councillors Shelley Carroll and Gord Perks, questioning whether the Port Authority has been planning all along to lengthen to runway to accommodate the new jets Porter Airlines has agreed to purchase.
"We were very disappointed to read that you both suggest that the TPA lied or may have lied to your face regarding the MEZ [marine exclusion zone] project," the letter says.
This is not the first time Mr. McQueen has written to city officials to address questions about the Port Authority's involvement with Billy Bishop, Canada's fastest-growing airport. Just last week, he wrote to Mayor Rob Ford to stress that the Port Authority was not asking city council to expand the airport's footprint. That letter was in response to correspondence from deputy city manager John Livey, saying he was "somewhat perplexed" by the Port Authority's request to expand the footprint.
Port Authority officials were not part of any discussions regarding expanding the runway at Billy Bishop to accommodate jets, sources close to the agency told The Globe and Mail.
Porter Airlines chief executive officer Robert Deluce said in a recent interview that he did not notify Transport Canada and the Port Authority until a couple of days before last week's news conference that he would be making a "significant" announcement.
"I'm not sure they were entirely prepared," Mr. Deluce said. "They questioned the timing on it."
However, Mr. Deluce said he felt Porter had to go ahead with the announcement a week ago Wednesday because it had signed an agreement with Bombardier the day before for the conditional purchase of up to 30 Bombardier CS100 jets.
The city, Transport Canada and the Port Authority must approve Porter's expansion plans. The tripartite agreement governing the airport bans jets and any changes to the footprint.
The Port Authority issued a statement last week, saying it takes no position on "Porter's aspirations."
"I hope that the Port Authority is not consenting to lengthen the runway, because then they will have lied to my face," Mr. Perks said in an interview. He said executives at the Port Authority have told him they were never going to use any of the lakefill to lengthen the runway and that "I was silly to think so."
Ms. Carroll said she was given the same assurances. "Whatever they are proposing now, I don't know why I should believe it," she said in an interview.
Some of the controversy appears to stem from the fact that the Port Authority has reviewed the impact on Billy Bishop of changes Transport Canada is considering making to rules governing runway safety areas.
Under the proposed rules, the airport would need to create a buffer in the event an aircraft overshoots the runway. The buffer, however, is not a runway extension.
In his letter to Mr. Ford, Mr. McQueen suggested that city council might want to consider amending the tripartite agreement, in the event Transport Canada changes the runway safety rules.
"They were not formal requests by the TPA of the city," the letter said.