Toronto to consider opening city airport to other in-development jets

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The city of Toronto will assess the possibility of opening up the Billy Bishop Toronto City airport to other in-development jets besides the Bombardier CS100 that Porter Airlines hopes to fly there, shows a report presented during an executive committee meeting last week at Toronto's city hall.

Porter has requested an exemption from city officials to fly the CS100 at the airport, where jets are banned. But the report indicates consultants will also research the impacts of operating the Mitsubishi MRJ70 and MRJ90, Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 Max and Embraer E-Jet out of the airport as well.

"As part of the review of Phase 1, staff is including these aircraft as part of the review and are consulting with their manufacturers to understand their specifications and requirements for operation at BBTCA [Billy Bishop Toronto City airport] if information is available," says the report, referring to the two-stage review process the city is using to assess Porter's proposal.

These jets, like the CSeries, are not available on the market just yet, and are in various stages of testing and development. The CS100 is scheduled to enter service by mid-2014, followed by the MRJ90 in 2015, the A320neo in 2015, the 737 Max in 2017 and the re-engined E2 E-Jet in 2018.

The report to assess the impact of allowing jets at Toronto City came after Porter unveiled an order for 12 CS100s in April, for delivery in 2016.

The order is conditional upon the airline gaining certification to fly them at the airport. The deal also depends on an extension of the main runway by 168m into the water on either side to accommodate the aircraft.

Opening the airport to more types of jets could mean increased competition from WestJet and Air Canada, which operate current builds of Boeing and Airbus narrowbody jets. WestJet has also indicated it would like to fly its Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprops at the airport, which it began receiving in June to operate under its regional subsidiary Encore.

Air Canada operates some Q400 flights to Montreal from Toronto City through partner Sky Regional, while WestJet does not have a presence at the airport. Both have indicated they would want to add operations on the island, but there are no slots currently available for more traffic.

In an initial assessment, consultant AirBiz Aviation Strategies estimates that extending the runway will cost C$80 million ($77 million). Porter expects these changes to be paid through an airport improvement fee that airport operator Toronto Port Authority charges, which has also been used to fund other projects like ferries and pedestrian tunnels.

AirBiz says that all of these additional aircraft may meet the noise requirements of the airport, although the specific noise levels are still subject to certification.

Noise rules at the airport are governed by a tripartite agreement between the city of Toronto, the Toronto Port Authority and the Canadian government. Under the tripartite agreement, the Toronto Port Authority does not allow aircraft flying in and out of the airport to generate "excessive" noise of more than 259.5 effective perceived noise decibels (EPNdB), with restrictions on the maximum noise values for the approach and flyover of the aircraft as well as the noise it makes lateral to the flight path.

Bombardier has made a guarantee to Porter that the aircraft type will not generate more than this amount of noise, the report says. Specific noise levels for each stage of flight will not be available until later this year, the study says.

The Q400s that Porter flies at the airport now have a noise level of 255.7 EPNdB.

The city of Toronto is undergoing a two-phase study on how Porter's request for the exemption will affect the airport and surrounding city. The city council committee decided last week to move forward with the first phase and to reconvene in September, when the City Council will decide whether to move on with a second phase.

Porter had originally indicated in April that it would like to see the city council's approval of the plan by July to move ahead with necessary developments ahead of the first 2016 delivery. However it could be the end of the year or later before a final decision is reached.

The budget for the first phase was initially C$275,000, which the Toronto Port Authority is paying for. The report says that an additional C$400,000 was added to the first phase. This is because some work is being done sooner than planned in the overall project, says Porter.

The second phase, which could take between two to three months, is expected to cost less. Porter says it has not been asked to pay for any studies so far.