Billy Bishop airport reaches ‘critical inflection point’; time to plan for future is now: report

By Dayna Fedy-MacDonald | January 31, 2023

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 30 seconds.

A new report published by the owner/operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (CYTZ), PortsToronto, authored by University of Toronto professor, Dr. Richard Florida, suggests that city airports such as CYTZ “support businesses, provide connectivity, and unlock opportunities . . . and have a key role in building knowledge economies” — which contribute to the circulation of people and ideas.

The report, Toronto’s Downtown Airport: A Powerful Economic Asset in the City’s Urban Core, has been released at a time when Billy Bishop airport is at a “critical inflection point.” Not only is CYTZ recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Tripartite Agreement that governs the airport is set to expire in 2033.

The signatories to the agreement — the federal government, the City of Toronto, and PortsToronto — must renew it, or the airport will close. However, the report points out that while the 2033 deadline “may seem like a long time away,” it is a “very small period in which to plan the future of an airport.”

Aerial view of Billy Bishop airport
New report authored by Richard Florida confirms the benefits of downtown airports. The study focuses on Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and its impact in shaping Toronto’s recovery and opportunity. PortsToronto Photo

Dr. Florida stated: “Billy Bishop is central to Toronto’s prosperity; it brings tourists and much needed revenue to the city and its urban core.”

According to Florida’s report, Billy Bishop airport added an estimated $3 billion to Toronto’s economy in 2022, which is up from $2.1 billion in 2019. That number is expected to grow further to nearly $4.8 billion by 2025.

In a PortsToronto press release, Stephen Lund, CEO of Toronto Global, pointed out that Billy Bishop airport “offers unmatched connectivity with the center of Canada’s business and financial hub. As we compete with cities like New York, London, and San Francisco for global talent and high tech business, air connectivity is a critical part of this equation.”

Florida added that “the airport is an undeniable asset to the City of Toronto . . . and should be regarded as such. This means . . . [taking] action to secure and optimize the future potential of this airport.”

According to PortsToronto’s president and CEO, RJ Steenstra, CYTZ is “eager to work with the City of Toronto and the federal government on a future vision for the airport.”

A large part of planning for the future of the airport relies on updating the Tripartite Agreement to reflect technological developments, such as electric aircraft. As it stands, the agreement — written in 1983 — “lacks provisions for electric planes,” which are slowly starting to make their way into the sector as the industry looks for ways to achieve its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Sustainability is another important theme that the airport wants to consider as part of its future. CYTZ has already introduced a number of sustainability initiatives, including choosing 100 percent green electricity across all facilities; converting the airport ferry to 100 percent electric power; and encouraging travelers to walk, bike, or take transit to the airport — which 41 percent of travelers are already doing, according to the airport.

Moreover, the report points out that CYTZ is the world’s first walkable, neighborhood-based airport — thanks to the pedestrian tunnel that connects mainland Toronto directly to the check in counters at the airport.

According to a 2022 survey, “85 percent of Toronto residents ‘agree’ that Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is a valuable asset for the entire city,” the PortsToronto press release reads. “A majority of Torontonians also agreed that Billy Bishop Airport is a good use of land (82 percent); that it makes sense to have an airport downtown (85 percent); and that the airport plays a central role for business, health care, and job creation for the city (78 percent).”

However, there is only so much the airport can grow in terms of carriers, routes, and aircraft types – due to the length of the runways. The current Tripartite Agreement prohibits runway expansions and the operation of jets at the airport.

In 2015, Porter Airlines — which has been based out of Billy Bishop airport since 2006 — proposed amending the agreement to allow jets to operate at CYTZ, but the proposal was declined by the federal government, according to a CTV News Toronto report.  

Porter now has 50 firm commitments and 50 purchase rights for the Embraer E195-E2 jet, which the airline will be operating out of Toronto Pearson airport.

The idea of jets operating out of Billy Bishop airport raises noise concerns for some. But Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, is all for the idea. He believes allowing jets to operate at CYTZ would increase competition, reduce gridlock, create 2,000 jobs, and bring in roughly $55 million in tax revenue, according to CTV News Toronto.

While there are currently no plans to extend the runway at the island airport and bring jets in, the topic is likely to be brought up again during the process to renew the Tripartite Agreement.

“Toronto is fortunate to have had a downtown airport for the last 80+ years, and should be looking at ensuring it is here for the next 80 years or more to support what this city should and can be,” concluded Florida.

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1 Comment

  1. Toronto waterfront is a beautiful area that should be protected from more massive noise and air problems that already exist from the many types of planes flying out of this island airport. Jets were banned because of citizen pushback. This airport is the only one in Canada sitting right next to schools and communities. It’s time to move this air traffic to Pearson and other local airports that do not sit smack in the middle of residential areas. The original tripartite agreement closure date must be respected.

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