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Bewilderment: Transport Canada continues to fund Ports Toronto in its quest for Toronto Island Airport US Customs pre-clearance.

Letter to Hon. Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Transport, Government of Canada 

May 31, 2024


Dear Minister: 


I write to express our bewilderment that Transport Canada continues to fund Ports Toronto in its quest for Toronto Island Airport US Customs pre-clearance


Why? 


Transport Canada is providing up to $30 million to fund the capital costs of this project. Those taxpayers' funds will be completely wasted if either of two things happen: 


  • The City of Toronto opts not to enter into a new lease for an essential part of the Airport lands. The existing lease (the Tripartite Agreement) expires in June 30, 2033. There is no right of renewal. We are of the view, and our view is shared by many City politicians, that a full and extensive consideration of the viability of the airport, and alternatives to future use of the airport lands, including fulsome community consultation, is essential before any such decision is made.


These questions must be answered in that consideration:
Is a failing, excessively-noisy and polluting airport jammed into Toronto’s prime recreational and residential area the best use for 215 acres of valuable publicly-owned waterfront land?
Are there alternative uses for the Airport lands that enhance, rather than diminish, the public’s enjoyment of our waterfront?

It would be so foolish to spend money before that consideration is completed, and a decision on lease renewal is made.


At this point, renewal is far from a certainty.


  • Ports Toronto fails to comply with new Runway End Safety Area requirements when they come into force in 2027. Ports Toronto has known about this safety issue ever since the Air France runway overshoot at Pearson in 2005. It has to obtain permission from the City and Transport Canada to extend landfill into the harbour and Humber Bay to create these Areas and has yet to present a case to the City for those approvals to our knowledge. Time is fast running out. As Ports Toronto has indicated(1) RESA costs will range from $50-$130 million, financing those costs will certainly require a longer amortization than the nine years remaining in the current lease.


Business at the Island Airport has declined significantly. According to Ports Toronto(2) , 2023 passenger volumes were down 27% from 2019 (pre-COVID).


And the number of commercial flights per day has declined, it appears, by almost 50%(3) from the days when Porter and Air Canada were utilizing their full slot allotments.


Porter has focused its operations on Pearson and has threatened to leave the Island Airport altogether. Porter, notwithstanding its impressive efforts, has admitted it was failing financially at the Airport before COVID.


The economic benefits Ports Toronto touts would not be lost if the Airport ceased to operate – they would simply be generated at Pearson (4).


Given the above, it's difficult to understand how Transport Canada could lavish scarce taxpayers' money on such an uncertain project.


Hence, our bewilderment.


We’d be pleased to discuss this issue at any time.



Brian Iler, for Parks not Planes 



Toronto Island Airport


(3) Data from flightaware.com: indicates a significant decrease in the number of flights in and out of the Island Airport in 2023 as compared with 2022: it shows 162 flights for October 16, 2023 (assuming it is a typical day), compared with 177 in 2022. 

But of those 162 slots (landings plus takeoffs, five day rolling average), 45 were medevac or private flights, not commercial aviation. Fights by Porter and Air Canada Jazz totalled 112 daily, a reduction of 46% from the peak of 202. 









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