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Staff report on island airport jets a ‘roadmap for expansion,’ critics say

Critics are calling a staff report about expanding Toronto’s island airport a disappointment and one that paves the way for allowing jets on the waterfront.

The document, released on Thursday, says pending council approval the city could start negotiating with the Toronto Port Authority (TPA) and Transport Canada to amend a 1983 agreement and allow for jets at the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

It calls for caps on the number of passengers and flights so as not to overwhelm ground transport and infrastructure and to “recognize and respect” the airport’s location on the waterfront.

Without limits, it says, passenger volume could jump from 2.3 million a year to about 3.8 million.

“If there is no commitment between the Tripartite Agreement signatories to pursue caps at the airport, there will be little sense in further consideration of airport expansion,” the report says.

Staff also says the TPA and Transport Canada must address issues like noise, traffic, flight paths, chemical and fuel management, community improvements and a curfew.

The TPA would draw up a new Airport Master Plan, carry out an environmental assessment and present a detailed runway design. The work would take the rest of the year and staff would report back to council in 2015.

“I believe that there’s certainly a lot of councillors like me that have concerns that having jets … will destroy the waterfront,” said Coun. Pam McConnell, who found value in the report, but is working on a motion that will further address the issue.

“And that is why Waterfront Toronto has publicly said that this is not something that is compatible with the development of the waterfront.”

Advocacy group NoJetsTO, meanwhile, called the report a “roadmap for expansion” and said it ignores outstanding issues about health, safety, fit with a revitalized waterfront and the “enormous price tag for landside infrastructure.”

“It’s clear that after months of pressure by Porter [Airlines] and [Deputy Mayor] Norm Kelly, city staff caved in,” said NoJetsTO chair Anshul Kapoor.

The TPA, however, said the report would place too many constraints on an expansion of the island airport.

“Over the past few weeks, certain conditions and restrictions have been put forward by staff that, if accepted by council, would significantly disadvantage passengers and undermine the airport’s viability,” said TPA board chair Mark McQueen.

“The report clearly recognizes the Billy Bishop airport as a valuable asset to the city and, although not all of our advice was accepted, we respect city staff’s role as they advise Toronto’s elected officials on this matter.”

Porter signed a $2.08-billion deal with Bombardier in 2013 to buy as many as 30 CS100 jets and has applied to amend the 1983 Tripartite Agreement that governs operations at the island airport.

The city’s Executive Committee will consider the staff report on Tuesday.