Hopping on a streetcar, walking into a bright new terminal downtown and flying to Vancouver would be nothing short of a dream for Toronto-based students, travellers and commuters. But it’s a dream that the city has been doing its best to step on for years.
Porter Airlines is in hot water again. Having once survived the wrath of Toronto’s previous mayor David Miller, who begrudged the upstart airline for merely existing, Porter is now facing criticism for wanting to fly jet planes to and from its island airport (which was named one of the 10 best in the world in 2013). The airline hopes to use the high-tech CSeries jet airliners it purchased from Bombardier to service farther destinations like Vancouver and San Francisco.
It would be a triple threat of Canadian entrepreneurship: a small airline competing with the likes of Air Canada; a Canadian plane builder out-engineering Boeing and Airbus; and a successful downtown airport, which would put Toronto on the map with a convenience few other cities can offer. So what’s not to like?
Some of the opposition to Porter’s plans is motivated by legitimate concerns over noise and safety. Porter says that its new planes are four times quieter and produce 20 per cent fewer emissions than comparable jets such as the Boeing 737.
Critics say that these claims haven’t been tested yet, but that’s no reason to believe the company is lying outright. The CS100 made its maiden flight last month and is already undergoing testing to make sure it hits its noise targets. And Bombardier has already proven it can engineer quiet, ecologically friendly airliners with its Q400 turboprops, the Toronto-built planes that currently make up Porter’s fleet. If the best aerospace talent in Canada says it can build a better jet plane, then it deserves the benefit of the doubt.
But too much of the outcry is little more than reactionary anti-corporatism: Companies bad! Jets bad! At a recent town hall meeting, an anti-Porter advocate held up a giant piece of cloth in the size and shape of a jet engine — as if there were an argument to be found somewhere in the startling revelation that airplanes are big.
Visions of jumbo jets from far-off places roaring over Lake Ontario have no basis in reality.
How else do you explain all the hand-wringing over the airline’s runway extension plans? Porter’s original proposal called for a 168-metre addition at each end of the runway to make room for the Bombardier planes. The latest one from September extends that to 200 metres per side. The company says a longer runway will actually reduce take-off noise, and it has agreed to let the city choose either option. But the naysayers insist that Porter CEO Robert Deluce waited to submit the final plan because he wanted to sneak his true ambitions past regulators — which are to make room for bigger, noisier jets capable of long-haul flights.
Indeed, the NoJetsTO campaign, whose supporters include prominent Torontonians like Margaret Atwood and Paul Bedford, states that its aim is to prevent the island from becoming a “Pearson-by-the-Lake.” But that’s not just hyperbole — it’s an appeal to the slippery slope fallacy.
Porter has been consistently transparent about its expansion plans, which include new routes to major hubs in Canada and the U.S. The size and capacity of the terminal will stay the same, so there’s still an upper limit to the number of daily flights and passengers. No one has ever expressed a desire for the Billy Bishop airport to operate internationally on the level of Pearson. Visions of jumbo jets from far-off places roaring over Lake Ontario have no basis in reality.
And what if Deluce were not telling the truth about Porter’s new planes? It would be an expensive and potentially company-ending mistake. The city may not have enough data to preemptively assess all of Porter’s claims, but it still gets to set the limits for acceptable noise levels — limits which both Bombardier and the airline have promised to respect. And Transport Canada will have the final word when it comes to issues like safety. If the new jets don’t meet those expectations, they won’t get to fly. It’s as simple as that.
If Deluce is lying, it will translate into a heavy loss for Porter, and a good deal more negative attention than he’s already received. The airline would certainly have a hard time ever getting its way in the city again.
But I don’t believe Porter wants to make enemies out of the Toronto public. Deluce may not be an altruist — the goal of any business is to make money — but he does present a promising solution to an age-old transportation problem in our city. And if we can subdue our knee-jerk reactions to corporations and jet engines for just a moment, we may realize that he has the right idea.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on October 9, 2013.