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PortsToronto says more runway space needed at Billy Bishop airport to comply with federal regulations

FILE- Travellers have voted Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport as having one of the top ten most scenic approaches in the world. (PortsToronto) FILE- Travellers have voted Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport as having one of the top ten most scenic approaches in the world. (PortsToronto)

The owner of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport says new federal safety requirements, including the need for more runway space, mean that the 40-year agreement that governs the waterfront airport must be reopened nearly a decade early.

The airport’s Tripartite Agreement, which was signed by Billy Bishop operator PortsToronto, the City of Toronto, and the federal government in 1983, isn’t set to expire until 2033 but PortsToronto confirmed Monday that it has made a request to “initiate discussions on updating the agreement.”

“This is due in large part to a federal requirement for additional Runway End Safety Areas (RESA) at Billy Bishop Airport which need to be completed by mid-2027,” PortsToronto spokesperson Deborah Wilson said in a written statement sent to CP24.com.

“This will require an update to the existing 40-year-old Tripartite Agreement, and long-term financial planning that will require certainty beyond 2033.”

Wilson did not say whether PortsToronto hopes to revisit the debate over a jets prohibition at the island airport.

Porter Airlines, the main airline operating out of the downtown airport, previously proposed amending the agreement to allow for runway expansions and jets. This would allow the airline to fly to more destinations, including the Caribbean and Vancouver.

The move was hotly contested by some members of the public, including the group ‘NoJetsTO,’ which argued that jets would cause increased noise pollution and have negative environmental impacts.

After many lively debates at city hall, the proposal was ultimately scrapped by the Trudeau government in 2015.

Last year, federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said that if elected as Canada’s next prime minister, he would allow jets to fly in and out of Toronto’s downtown core via Billy Bishop airport.

The Ottawa MP, who had not yet won the leadership race when the comments were made, said his government would reopen the Tripartite Agreement and "remove gatekeepers and open the skies to competition.”

At the time, he argued that it would shorten commute time, reduce gridlock, and create jobs.

A spokesperson for the city said staff aim to bring a report on Billy Bishop City Airport to Mayor Olivia Chow’s executive committee at the scheduled meeting on Jan. 30, 2024.

“It is anticipated that this report will introduce the issue of Federal Runway End Safety Area requirements, outline PortsToronto’s objectives related to RESA and the Tripartite Agreement, and describe a recommended approach to how the City can engage in this work,” the city’s spokesperson said in an email.

During her unsuccessful mayoral bid in 2014, Chow was an outspoken critic of the expansion of the island airport.

In a statement, the mayor's office said she "looks forward to the report" and will determine her support at that time.

"Once there is a proposal to consider, she will look at all the implications and ensure any decision is made through a transparent public process," the statement concluded.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Katherine DeClerq 

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