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Several major cities around the world have well-utilized downtown heliports, including London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Chicago, and Manhattan — the latter of which has three. These strategically located facilities are most often used by corporate employees, tourists, emergency medical teams, military members, and law enforcement personnel.
In Canada, the best known example is Vancouver Harbour Heliport, located on the south shore of Coal Harbour in British Columbia. The complex is operated by Helijet International, which provides scheduled flights from there to both Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
Moving east to Toronto, the downtown area has had three heliports over the last five decades — in addition to specialized decks atop hospitals. The first was the Spadina Heliport, which operated from the late ‘60s into the mid-‘70s.
A decade later, the Toronto Downtown Heliport was established in the city’s Port Lands district. Ranger Helicopters provided scheduled passenger service between there and Terminal 2 at Toronto Pearson Airport from August 1986 through June 1987, using three Airbus AS350 AStars and a TwinStar.
In 1998, the Polson Pier helipad was established and certified by National Helicopters of Kleinburg, Ontario, on the eastern side of Toronto’s inner harbor. About a dozen years later, Four Seasons Aviation assumed control of it. Now, it is about to undergo a significant upgrade thanks to a creative entrepreneur who has recognized a unique opportunity.
From helipad to heliport
Peter Mallar is an American Canadian who is a self-described aviation fanatic. Since his career as a U.S. naval aviator, he has been involved in a number of enterprises. His Skyline Heliport became the latest operator of the Polson Pier facility on July 15, 2023. The property is an automobile parking lot with a tiny helipad in its northwest corner beside the water, but Mallar has big plans to transform the location.
He told Skies that the key principal he is depending on is: “Build it and they will come.”
The first step in the transformation will be the construction of a new 150-foot by 150-foot landing pad and adjacent ramp, due to begin in mid-September and be completed by late October.
The structures, including an FBO terminal and a hangar, are scheduled to be completed by January 2024 — subject to cooperative weather.
The terminal building will include a lounge for the FBO’s customers, arrival and departure areas for potential airline operations, and a hall for corporate or social events. The latter space will provide a panoramic view of the city’s skyline.
Mallar said the hangar will be able to hold three light helicopters such as Bell 206s or Airbus AS350s, while the ramp is being designed to provide parking for either three light helicopters or two medium-sized machines like AW139s or S-76s. Should more helicopter parking space be required, an adjacent section of the automobile parking lot could be converted.
In addition to an updated parking lot for those who drive their own vehicles, a complimentary shuttle service between the heliport and Toronto’s central business district is anticipated.
The facility is expected to be certified by Transport Canada as an H3 heliport, equipped with the required lighting, and will operate under VFR rules from dawn until dusk daily.
When Skies asked Mallar what the Skyline Heliport might eventually look like, he replied, “In 10 years’ time, I’d like to see this as a major transportation hub and gateway.”
With the closure of Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport in Markham this fall and the demand for hangar space at Toronto Pearson Airport in Mississauga, business aircraft and turboprops are finding new homes at regional airports like Lake Simcoe (YLS), Waterloo (YKF), Hamilton (YHM), Oshawa (YOO), and Peterborough (YPQ).
Decades ago, a similar phenomenon took place in the greater New York area, when companies moved their flight departments to Teterboro, Westchester County, Morristown, Waterbury-Oxford, and Stewart. Helicopters have long been used to shuttle passengers between Manhattan heliports and those airports. Over time, helicopter activity within the Greater Toronto Area may increase in a similar manner.
In recent years, there have been 35 to 50 arrivals per month at the Polson Pier helipad. The anticipation is that the Skyline Heliport will see this level of monthly traffic initially double and gradually increase to 150 monthly arrivals.
While the initial users are expected to be local corporate and private helicopters, there are plans to introduce a flightseeing operator that would use EC120 and EC130 equipment. As well, EMS operators and U.S. registered machines are forecast to become frequent visitors. Other potential activity could come from the introduction of scheduled shuttle services within Southern Ontario and an international scheduled airline service.
The complex will also have an upgraded wharf for visiting vessels. The Empress of Canada, a large charter cruise boat, will continue to use the berth along the north side of the property. Moreover, the facility would be an attractive terminal for any scheduled ferry service from Lake Ontario communities.
According to Mallar, the Skyline Heliport team should grow to 20 members in short order and is expected to expand to 50 employees within three years.
Given the expected growth of Toronto’s population and economy, the transfer of corporate aircraft to outlying airports, and the potential of eVTOL aircraft, the Skyline Heliport appears to be well positioned to play an important role within the GTA’s air transportation network.