Professor of Public Management Emeritus at the University of Toronto
Published November, 2023
As Samuel Johnson opined, deadlines “concentrate the mind wonderfully.” Not only does Billy Bishop Airport’s (BBA) lease expire in 2033, but – more urgently – the airport must meet a Transport Canada requirement to have in place runway end safety areas by 2027. RESA’s, as the term suggests, are flat obstacle-free zones at the end of runways to protect aircraft that either under- or over-shoot the runway. As BBA is built on the waterfront, the RESA’s would require landfill into the harbour in several places and likely cost $150 million.
The opponents of maintaining BBA are two citizens’ groups, Parks not Planes, and Waterfront for All. To reinterpret Doug Ford’s 2018 election slogan, they argue that closing BBA would provide enhanced recreational opportunities for the people, rather than more convenient travel for the elite. Recently, Ed Hore, Chair of Waterfront for All, published a policy paper entitled “Does Toronto Need Two Airports?” Hore doesn’t answer the question, but rather lays out a set of alternatives, and poses a thorough set of probing questions the City of Toronto should answer before it decides whether to support BBA or to force it to close.
My own position depends on embracing two discordant ideas. First, I believe that the City should do a thorough analysis of the impact of moving air traffic from BBA to Pearson and converting the BBA site to the best alternative use, which I think would be recreational, broadly defined. Second, based on my experience as a researcher on the economics of aviation, I think the results of the study will show that closing BBA is the better way. It is now time to send in the wonks.