While the commercial service offered from YTZ wasn't that great and won't be greatly missed, it will pose a bigger problem for GA operators who will have to relocate, as well as the Air Ambulance operations.
Island airport to close: Ottawa
Collenette sees Pearson rail link, new Pickering airport instead
Nicolaas van Rijn
Transportation Minister David Collenette says there's no need for a Toronto Island Airport once a fixed rail link is built to speed passengers between Union Station and Pearson airport.
"If we get the rail link built to Pearson, then it really undermines the case for an Island airport," Collenette said yesterday, adding the rail line should be in operation within the next three to four years.
And, he said — raising a spectre many thought had been laid to rest years ago — a regional airport in Pickering will be built in little over a decade, further relieving strain on Pearson.
"The argument that's made is that the Island airport is a great jewel, it's right in the heart of the downtown, it's great for business," he said. "I know the Board of Trade was very much enamoured of that in earlier times, but it seems that more and more people are coming around to the notion that a rapid transit link from Union Station to Pearson really is the answer.
"I guess the question is, do the citizens of Toronto want to have jets on the Island? Do they want to have 6 and 7,000 foot runways with all of the environmental impacts?"
Collenette also noted that Toronto is already served by one regional airport in the west, Hamilton, and in little over a decade will have a second regional airport on the east, in Pickering.
It's time now, Collenette said, for a public debate on Toronto's airport needs.
"We've designated the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to start preparatory work for an airport on the Pickering lands. We've been very public and said `Look, 2012, 2015, you're probably looking at an airport being built on the Pickering lands.'"
The federal government owns 7,300 hectares of land in north Pickering, acquired decades ago for a proposed airport. Although a vociferous public outcry forced Ottawa to park its plans, Transport Canada has never backed away from the concept of a Pickering airport.
In 1999, Collenette assured Pickering mayor Wayne Arthurs that Ottawa would not proceed with an official airport designation in order to give local municipalities the chance to come up with their own plan for a "reliever" airport — one that would relieve pressure on Pearson.
At the time, Arthurs said Pickering remains opposed to an international airport on the lands, but noted the town's official plan recognizes a regional airport — perhaps to replace Buttonville and Oshawa airports — might be needed in the future.
Collenette ultimately sees the Pickering site linked to downtown Toronto with a high-speed rail line. The new airport will be similar to Hamilton International Airport, which will "undermine the case for expansion of the Island airport," Collenette noted. "The chair of the port authority has said, correctly, the status quo is unacceptable — we either expand the Island airport or we close it."
Collenette said to make the Island airport viable, jets have to be let in and runways expanded, "and that's going to create a hell of a lot more disruption for the people now living in the community. Extension of the runways will have environmental impacts, in particular as you extend the runway out into the harbour."
The Toronto Port Authority, which operates the Island airport, has an ambitious expansion scheme in mind for the money-losing facility, arguing the airport must either close or expand. Traffic peaked at 400,000 passengers annually in the mid-1980s, but since then has slipped to just 140,000 in 1999. According to one estimate, the airport — which costs Toronto taxpayers more than $1 million a year in subsidies — is mainly used by a core group of frequent users thought to number no more than 20,000.
"The airport is at a crossroads," the Port Authority notes in its feasibility study, released earlier this month. "Continuing on the current path," it adds, "will see ongoing deficits and ultimately the cessation of scheduled service at the airport."
The expansion proposals include a $20 million passenger terminal, $16 million for a bridge from the mainland, and $2 million for expanding the existing runways out into Toronto Harbour.
"This scenario includes three variations: scheduled service with 32-seat jets, 50-seat jets and 72-seat jets," the feasibility study notes.
But expanding the Island airport to allow jet service is a contentious issue, especially since the main approach path is over Toronto's portlands, which are slated for massive residential and commercial development.
Allan Sparrow, outreach coordinator for Community AIR (Airport Impact Review), a group opposed to expanding the Island airport, welcomed Collenette's remarks.
"We're delighted that the minister is taking this position, we believe it will kickstart rejuvenation of the waterfront," Sparrow said yesterday. "If the expanded airport had gone ahead, it would destroy any opportunity to develop the portlands, because the main approach to the airport is over the portlands.
"Aircraft come in at 200 feet, so an expansion would have destroyed those development plans, which call for a multi-billion dollar investment, and envisions 55,000 residents and 35,000 workers.
"If the airport wasn't closed that scheme would be in jeopardy," said Sparrow, who met with Collenette last week to discuss the issue. "The minister also understood the pollution and health issues involved, and the need for more parkland."
Sparrow said Collenette told Community AIR's delegation at last week's meeting that he personally favours turning the Island airport's 80 acres into parkland. That, Sparrow said, would also add an extra kilometre of beach to the Island parks.
Toronto City Centre Airport, as the Island facility is officially known, was built in 1937, when its neighbours were factories and warehouses along the waterfront.
A change in use since then has seen tens of thousands of residents moving to the waterfront, and the transformation of the area into a popular recreation and tourist attraction that's used by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the spring, summer and fall.
City centre airports in other North American centres have also seen their fortunes change.
Edmonton closed its downtown municipal airport several years ago, and Chicago is about to close its waterfront commuter airport, Meigs Field. Although San Diego recently decided to expand — not close — its waterfront airport, the city's planning chief calls the move "the worst planning decision the city ever made."