Porter seeks to land jets at island airport, extend runway
Chris Kitching, cp24.com
Published Wednesday, April 10, 2013 11:30AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2013 4:45PM EDT
Porter Airlines is seeking permission to fly its new jets out of Toronto’s island airport, as it looks to expand its network to new destinations across North America.
The Toronto-based airline confirmed Wednesday it has signed a conditional purchase order with Bombardier for 12 CS100 jets, with options for an additional 18.
The agreement, worth up to US$2.29 billion, depends on two conditions.
First, Porter and Bombardier must convince Toronto city council, the federal government and Toronto Port Authority to allow the Canadian-made jets to fly out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
There is currently a ban on jet-powered aircraft, except air ambulances, emergencies or aircraft involved in the CNE airshow.
The second condition involves a runway extension.
Porter and Bombardier are asking the city, feds and TPA – co-signers of a Tripartite Agreement that has governed the waterfront airport since 1983 – to extend the main runway by 168 metres into Lake Ontario at each end.
According to Porter, the extension can be done without changes to existing marine boundaries around the airport, which is owned and operated by the TPA.
Porter president and CEO Robert Deluce said the extension would not disturb watercraft.
"With (aircraft) operating performance it really requires only a very modest extension to the runway," Deluce told CP24 reporter George Lagogianes after a news conference at Porter's headquarters.
In a statement, the TPA said it will not consider any change of use to the airport until city council makes its own decision on the proposed changes to the 1983 agreement.
“As an independent operation, it is up to Porter to pursue its own business plan for the benefit of its customers, shareholders and employees,” the TPA said in a statement released after Porter’s announcement. “The TPA takes no position on Porter's business aspirations.”
In an interview with CP24, Deluce downplayed the notion that the airline is putting the cart before the horse by purchasing planes before it has approval to use the downtown airport.
Deluce said there was "no point" in making a proposal to the Tripartite Agreement co-signers until the airline selected a suitable aircraft that it could present to the city, Ottawa and the TPA.
The new jets seat 107 people and would allow Porter to fly to places such as Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Florida and the Caribbean, Deluce said.
“We believe it is time to spread our wings,” Deluce told reporters at the news conference, where Porter and Bombardier unveiled details of a conditional agreement signed Tuesday night after Porter signed a letter of intent last December.
Delivery of Porter's first CS100 aircraft would be in 2016, and the agreement includes purchase rights for six Q400 NextGen aircraft.
Concerns about noise, pollution
Some city councillors spoke out against or expressed concern about aspects of Porter’s plans.
Coun. Adam Vaughan, whose Trinity-Spadina ward is opposite the airport, worries about the impact on quality of life, including noise and pollution.
“I think the issue now in front of Torontonians is how much of the lake do you want to fill in and pave with a runway and how much industrial use do you want next to your drinking water,” Vaughan told CP24 reporter Rena Heer.
If Porter gets the approval it is seeking, Vaughan worries the airport would open to additional airlines or corporate jets.
“That means from south Etobicoke to south Scarborough and right through the downtown core, you’re going to have jets buzzing around you at extended hours at this airport,” Vaughan said. “I think that the residents that are in the flight paths of this are going to be very concerned because those other jets will not be as quiet or as clean and they’re going to create very cloudy, very noisy and very disturbing skies.”
Coun. Michelle Berardinetti urged council members to take a step back and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
“We’re not paving over the lake. Let’s just have a reasonable discussion about the issue,” Berardinetti told CP24.
She said council must be mindful the deal involves Canadian companies and would create jobs and economic opportunities for Toronto.
In an attempt to ease any concerns about noise, Deluce and Bombardier president Mike Arcamone said the CS100 aircraft is the world’s quietest commercial jet and it has a similar sound profile to Porter’s existing fleet of Bombardier Q400 turboprops, which seat 70 passengers.
The “brand new” jetliner is “tailor-made” for downtown urban airports, Deluce said.
Described by Bombardier as environmentally-friendly and state-of-the-art, the CS100 aircraft can land on shorter runways and it burns 20 per cent less fuel, reduces emissions by up to 50 per cent compared with a similar aircraft, and translates into lower operating costs, Arcamone said.
He said the plane features wider seats, larger windows and more baggage space.
Deluce said Porter’s planned expansion would provide “enormous” economic opportunities for Toronto, create hundreds of new jobs and offer new destinations for passengers at affordable costs.
Porter launched in 2006 and now serves 19 regional destinations, from Thunder Bay, Ont., and Chicago to St. John’s, N.L., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Analysts react to plans
Industry analyst Robert Kokonis said there's a big risk that Porter's plans will never happen because of expected opposition to the airport expansion from Toronto residents and environmentalists.
"That would be a big win if all the chips fall in the right place or it could end up being a disaster," Kokonis, the president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc., told The Canadian Press.
He also said Porter's planes have been flying less full while load factors at rivals WestJet Airlines and Air Canada have been improving.
"In a zero sum game where they're all sort of chasing the same passenger, it does give one pause for concern that Porter might be struggling in some areas."
Chris Murray of PI Financial Corp. said Porter's move would allow it to expand its reach, but would prompt a competitive response from its large national rivals.
But the limited additional capacity wouldn't change the Canadian airline market much.
"It's still a niche model," Murray said following the news conference.
"I wouldn't expect it to radically upset the balance at least in the near term."
However, he said it may encourage others to fly the CSeries from the Toronto airport.
With files from The Canadian Press
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