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On Sept. 8, 2021, a huge step towards a return to normalcy from the Covid-19 world was taken at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (CYTZ). The Toronto Port Authority’s airport resumed commercial airline service after the 18-month temporary suspension of commercial service due to the pandemic.
Billy Bishop Airport’s staff, stakeholders, and government partners “marked the day and recognized the conclusion of a difficult period for the aviation industry by welcoming back passengers and getting back to the business of making connections and supporting Toronto’s economy,” the airport said. The commercial restart coincidentally took place on the 82nd anniversary of CYTZ’s very first commercial flight in 1939. At that time, CYTZ was called Port George VI Island Airport.
Geoffrey Wilson, CEO of PortsToronto (owner and operator of Billy Bishop Airport), along with His Worship John Tory, Mayor of Toronto, and Michael Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines, were in attendance of the celebratory occasion.
“This is a day that we have all been looking forward to and planning for since March 2020, when the pandemic emerged and our world changed overnight,” said Wilson. “Today we mark a return to commercial service at Billy Bishop Airport and a return to the business, passengers, and experiences that make our airport truly unique and inspire our love of travel.
“The restart of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is also an important component of the City of Toronto’s recovery strategy as our restart means a return of jobs, a return of trade and tourism, and a return of a valuable gateway to one of the best cities in the world.”
Porter Resumes Operations
Porter Airlines was at last able to safely restart operations on Sept. 8, after service had been suspended since the initial Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.
During the event at YTZ, a commemorative Porter flight to Ottawa attended by key stakeholders and partners was “readied for takeoff” with a special water cannon salute performed by the onsite Airport Rescue and Firefighting team.
According to Porter Airlines executive chairman Robert Duluce: “Porter made good use of the down time to upgrade the fleet. Many of the aircraft were due for repainting in their maintenance cycle, and Muskoka Aircraft Refinishing did a fine job. New seats and spruced up interiors were also installed to freshen up the fleet.”
For now, flights to Ottawa, Montreal, and Thunder Bay from Billy Bishop have resumed. Flights to Quebec City, Halifax, Moncton, and St. John’s will return within the next week. Transborder flights to U.S. destinations like Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington will resume on Sept. 17. And all previous Porter destinations will begin to receive some level of service by Oct. 6.
Porter commenced operations in 2006, and its fleet consists of 29 Toronto-built Q400s (now the Dash 8-400) acquired between 2006 and 2017. Eight of the aircraft are now back in service, with more being readied. Porter also recently announced an order with Embraer for up to 80 E195-E2 aircraft. The first of those aircraft are slated to enter service in mid-2022.
Air Canada Express service resumes
Air Canada Express Dash 8-400s operated by Jazz Aviation also restarted flights from Billy Bishop Airport on Sept. 8. Jazz operates five daily flights from Toronto to Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (CYUL). Jazz took over the Air Canada Express YTZ operations from Sky Regional Airlines, and has operated other routes across the country throughout the pandemic on behalf of Air Canada.
Mark Galardo, senior VP, Network Planning and Revenue Management, Air Canada, said: “Air Canada is very pleased to offer customers the option of the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport when travelling to Montreal or connecting beyond from there on our extensive global network. We are returning with a schedule of five, conveniently timed return trips each day, and we look forward to expanding our daily services as more traffic returns.”
Other Billy Bishop operators
The pandemic has affected all of the other operators at Billy Bishop Airport, to some degree. Expansion plans at YTZ are extensive, and the general aviation (GA) facility at the east end of the Island has recently been expanded to house a number of GA operators including Island Air Flight School, Fast Air, Toronto Heli Tours, and FlyGTA Airlines.
Flight training at Island Air was shut down for about six weeks when the lockdowns first started in early 2020. The company quickly put Covid-19 protocols into place and has been carrying out training ever since.
Cameron Air’s fleet of YTZ-based Pilatus PC-12NGs, float-equipped Cessna 208 Caravans, and Cessna 206s have fulfilled a vital link to Northern Ontario throughout the pandemic. They provide executive and passenger charter and cargo services from the heart of Toronto.
Of course, Ornge has been operating its Leonardo AW139 helicopters from Billy Bishop throughout the pandemic. The air ambulance service has been busy transferring patients to and from hospitals across the province in order to help cope with capacity issues arising from large numbers of Covid-19 cases.
The restart of airline operations at Billy Bishop is a boon to commercial aviation in Canada. All major airports in Canada are seeing large increases in traffic. We can only hope the rising Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant will stabilize, and the increases in airline traffic will continue.