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Parks not Planes briefing note – summer 2024 update

Parks not Planes’ briefing note updated – summer 2024.

Toronto Island Airport

The need for more parks

Adding to the 300,000 people who now live in the city core, new development will bring even greater numbers of people to live downtown. Our waterfront attracts many tourists and visitors from all over the city.

the city, says a 2019 City report. The huge line-ups this summer for the Island ferries provide strong evidence of the demand for parkland.

Downtown Toronto is more deficient in parkland than any other neighbourhood in  the city, says a 2019 City report

To address that deficiency, the City has even considered spending in excess of $1.7

billion for a park of just 20 acres over the railway lands.

The opportunity

There is a far better way to address that severe park deficiency: convert the Island

Airport lands to parkland.

That would add 215 acres to the Island Park, making it as large as New York City’s

Central Park.

That’s not far-fetched: on June 30, 2033, less than 9 years from now, the City’s lease

of an essential portion of the Airport lands ends.

The rest of the lands are owned by Ports Toronto, a federal agency, which received them without compensation from the Toronto Harbour Commission, a creature of the City. Ports Toronto and the federal government could be partners in creating this wonderful park.

Now is the time to start imagining how those 215 acres should be used – is the public interest best served by renewing the Airport lease, or converting them to parkland?

Edmonton, Berlin, and Chicago have converted their downtown airports to parkland, and Santa Monica will do so soon. It is time for Toronto to join them.

The last noxious industrial use

The Island Airport is the waterfront’s last remaining noxious vestige of its industrial past

- delivering noise, pollution and threats to our natural environment, our health and

quality of life.

Ultra fine particles (UFP), which are extremely hazardous to human health, are emitted by jet engines, like those powering Q400 aircraft, flown by both Porter and Air Canada at the Airport. Sensors monitored by scientists from University of Toronto in the Bathurst Quay neighbourhood detected unacceptably high levels of UFP when the wind was blowing from the Airport into the neighbourhood.

This is from the UofT scientists’ report:

Southerly winds: UFP levels range from similar (Arcadia) to higher (Ferry Terminal) than at College Street.

Ferry T is Airport ferry terminal. Windward and Arcadia are housing co operatives just north of the Airport. College street measurement taken 2.6 km north of Arcadia.

The airport disturbs the sleep of nearby residents: medevac planes take off and land throughout the night, the ferry begins at 4 am and runs past midnight and maintenance and upgrades are done overnight.

Unacceptable pollution and noise emanating from the Airport are incompatible with the (now) primary recreational and residential uses of our waterfront.

The Island Airport’s business is in decline

The graph below is from, and 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 (a typical Monday), compared with 177 in 2022.

a significant decrease in the number of flights in and out of the Island Airport in 2023 as compared with 2022

Courtesy of FlightAware

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

Porter was awarded 172 slots (landings plus takeoffs) per day by Ports Toronto, and Air Canada 30. At one point, Porter and Air Canada were using them all.

The market has spoken: the Island Airport’s business has declined drastically, and, with Porter increasingly operating from Pearson, one can reasonably expect it to decline further.

Does the Island Airport make financial sense?

It is heavily subsidized:

  • The City of Toronto leases a portion of the Airport lands, a parking lot, and queuing lanes to Ports Toronto for nominal rent.

  • Ports Toronto obtained ownership of the rest of the Airport lands (originally donated by the City to its Harbour Commission for port purposes) for free and passes that benefit on to its users.

  • An analysis shows Ports Toronto pays property taxes at a rate far below other businesses in Toronto – over 20 years, providing a subsidy from the taxpayers of Toronto of, conservatively, $36,607,528.

Studies prepared for Ports Toronto and the terminal operator attempt to show economic benefit to Toronto. But those studies fail to consider whether that benefit would flow in any event if all the Airport’s business moves to Pearson. A reasonable conclusion would be that there is no net benefit to our economy.

What about Porter?

Like City Express and Air Ontario, which both failed in their efforts to profitably fly out of the Island Airport, Porter

Porter has found that people prefer the better choice of flights at Pearson, and the convenience of the Union-Pearson Express train to get there.

And recently, Porter’s finances were shaken even more by a $131M judgment against it, for failing to pay terminal fees at the Island Airport.

Doesn’t Medevac need the Island Airport?

helicopter service: more than half of its emergency destinations are north of the City, and operating from the Island Airport results in deteriorated response times for majority of patients during the critical initial minutes.

ORNGE should be stationed north of the city, and it certainly doesn’t require an airport to operate its helicopters out of.

Patients requiring critical care do not arrive at the Airport. They are delivered directly to hospital heliports.

This issue was advanced as a reason to not close the Edmonton City Centre Airport but

did not stop the closure. Subsequently, a 2015 study concluded that moving medevac

to the Edmonton International Airport had no impact on safety or the quality of care

received by critically-ill and time sensitive patients.

Short-haul flying is the worst!

Aviation is a significant greenhouse gas emitter. Short-haul flights, which the Island

Airport exclusively provides, are the transportation sector’s worst emitters as evidenced by the chart below.

Short-haul flights, which the Island  Airport exclusively provides, are the transportation sector’s worst emitters as evidenced by the chart

There’s good news: the Federal Government is planning electrified High Frequency Rail in the Toronto to Ottawa/Montréal corridor, to be operational by 2030. If fast enough, it has huge potential to replace the Island Airport’s short-haul flights with fast and frequent service, as high speed trains have for many Europeans.

If we are to reduce the prospect of an unlivable world for our children and grandchildren, we need to fly a lot less and choose vastly more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The mandate

And it just happens that the Federal Government is committed to establishing new urban parks. This is from the Prime Minister’s Mandate Letter to his Minister of Environment and Climate Change:

“To ensure all Canadians have access to green space, establish at least one new national urban park in every province and territory, with a target of 15 new urban parks by 2030.”

The Island Airport lands can be one of those 15 – another wonderful federal government initiative, akin to its founding of Harbourfront in the 80s.

Who we are

Parks not Planes is a Toronto community group. We think the public interest is best

served by turning the 215 acres of airport lands into a spectacular Waterfront Park.

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