Airline Set to Turn Toronto Island Airport in Regional Hub

Feb. 3, 2006
A new airline is set to turn the sleepy airport on Toronto Island into a regional hub over the protests of local residents and the opposition of Mayor David Miller.

A new airline is set to turn the sleepy airport on Toronto Island into a regional hub over the protests of local residents and the opposition of Mayor David Miller.

Porter Airlines was launched yesterday by Robert Deluce, whose desire to start a new airline was stymied in 2003 when Miller was elected and killed a plan for a bridge to the island.

Now, Deluce has returned with powerful financial backers and a plan to take flight by summer's end. "We have logged a lot of miles to get here," Deluce said at the Bombardier plant in Downsview, where his company has a $500 million order for 20 turboprops. "We've had to adjust our flight plan a little."

The Toronto City Centre Airport now is host to only five flights a day, but the body that governs it allows up to 80. Air Canada, anticipating the competition from Porter Airlines, has announced plans to expand its island operations, increasing daily flights to Ottawa and reopening a Montreal route.

While union representatives, along with Canadian Autoworkers president Buzz Hargrove, welcomed a deal they said would boost Bombardier and provide hundreds of new jobs, residents vowed to ground Porter Airlines before it takes off.

Newly elected NDP MP Olivia Chow led a group of harbourfront activists in calling for prime minister-designate Stephen Harper to hand control of the body that governs the airport, the Toronto Port Authority, over to the city of Toronto so it can kill Deluce's deal.

"People want this airport expansion stopped," Chow said during a news conference at the Harbourfront Community Centre. "The port authority has acted like a rogue agency. It must be answerable to people and the people here don't want airport expansion."

Locals argue expanded island airport service will bring air and noise pollution and increased traffic to their neighbourhood. Chow said NDP Leader Jack Layton has asked the prime minister's office to take action on the airport and port authority. Harper said during the federal election campaign he favours devolving control of local issues to municipalities.

The mayor, meanwhile, reiterated his position that an expanded island airport is inconsistent with the desire to revitalize the waterfront. "The fact is, the city of Toronto doesn't have very many tools to fight this," Miller told reporters at city hall. "(The port authority) is a federal agency that's under federal control that has never respected the wishes of the people of Toronto and, really, it's the federal government that's going to have to bring it to heel."

Miller said he would press his case with federal Conservatives. The port authority announced it will spend $15 million on improving ferry service and infrastructure to ease access to the airport, which sits a short distance across Toronto harbour from the foot of Bathurst St.

All the action may mean the airport soon exceeds the number of flights allowed under an agreement between the port authority, the city and the federal government. That agreement allows for a maximum of 167 movements - takeoffs or landings - a day at the airport.

Deluce says Porter won't exceed the maximum, with plans to carry no more than 220,000 passengers a year. At its peak in the late 1980s, 400,000 people travelled via the island airport annually.

Deluce appears to have secured impressive support, with $125 million in financing. Porter's backers include the financial side of Deluce's firm, REGCO, EdgeStone Capital and Borealis Infrastructure, the investment arm of OMERS, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.

Deluce has also brought in retired American Airlines CEO Don Carty to serve as chair of Porter's board. "This is the best-financed start-up in a long, long time," said Joesph D'Cruz of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

D'Cruz predicts Porter will start with flights to Ottawa and Montreal and expand to New York and Boston. The range of the fuel-efficient Q400s is 500 nautical miles, putting Porter within reach of about 150 million people.

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