04/09/2013 12:11 EDT | Updated 06/09/2013 05:12 EDT

Porter may buy jets that can fly across Canada

Toronto-based Porter Airlines may be close to a deal to buy $2 billion worth of CSeries jets from Bombardier, a major deal that could see the regional carrier significantly expand the range of destinations it can fly to, and lead to much larger jets flying in and out of the city's island airport.

According to the Wall Street Journal and other reports, Porter will finalize a letter of intent to buy up to 30 CSeries jets from Montreal-based aerospace firm Bombardier.

In December, Bombardier hinted it was close to a deal with an unnamed North American carrier to buy 30 of the forthcoming jets, with an option for as many as 18 more. Media reports Tuesday suggest that company is Porter, and the deal could be announced as early as Wednesday.

In a news release with the headline "Porter Airlines to spread its wings," the airline says it will host a media event at noon on Wednesday.

But when pressed for further details by CBC News, a spokesperson for the airline would only say, "While there are many reports and much speculation at the moment, we cannot confirm anything."

Currently, Porter exclusively flies Q400 turboprops out of Toronto's Billy Bishop Island Airport. The range of Q400s is roughly 2,500 kilometres, which allows Porter to serve destinations across eastern Canada and parts of the United States.

The range of a CSeries jet is more than 5,400 kilometres — wide enough to extend Porter's reach across Canada, the U.S. and to Caribbean destinations.

As it stands, a jet such as the CSeries would not be able to fly out of Toronto's island airport for a variety of reasons, including that it cannot take off and land on the airport's 1,219-metre runway, and jet engines do not meet the airport's stringent rules about noise.

Adam Vaughan, the Toronto city councillor for the area where the island airport is located, says the tripartite deal between different levels of government and the port authority that governs Billy Bishop doesn't allow jets or runway extensions.

"Paving the lake is not an option," Vaughan told CBC News.

That raises the possibility that Porter may plan on flying out of Toronto's much larger Pearson airport, or use the planes in other destinations with no limitations on plane size.

NDP transportation critic Olivia Chow, who is also the MP for the area, told CBC News that she hasn't heard of any move to re-negotiate the tripartite deal, and said Porter would have to present a business plan as a first step to allowing jet flights there.

She said the island airport is already not in compliance with a Transportation Safety Board requirement that barriers be present to prevent aircraft from overshooting runways.

'An ideal aircraft'

"We believe that significant rework at Billy Bishop, which currently has a runway of 4,000 [feet, or 1,219 metres] will have to be completed before the CS100 is able to fly out of the island airport," RBC Dominion Securities analyst Walter Spracklin said in a research report.

"While no additional detail was provided, the CS100's ability to take off and land at around 4,500-foot runways, coupled with a superior noise footprint, makes the CSeries an ideal aircraft for Billy Bishop," Spracklin said.

"Porter could also be looking to deploy the CSeries from alternate airports, including Montreal, to destinations in the U.S. and significantly expand its footprint on those routes," he added.

With test flights scheduled for this coming June, the CSeries is on track for first deliveries some time in 2014, after a number of delays.

Deal with workers

Separately on Monday, privately owned Porter announced a labour agreement between 44 unionized cleaning staff at Billy Bishop Airport, on one of the Toronto islands, and Porter FBO Ltd.

Porter said the workers, represented by the National Organized Workers union, voted 88 per cent in favour of the new contract.

Meanwhile, 22 employees who refuel planes for Porter Airlines were still on strike after talks broke down nearly three months ago.

The workers have been off the job since Jan. 10 after management and the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union couldn't agree on wages. The fuel workers have been trying to negotiate a first contract since organizing last August.

Porter has trained replacement workers to fill in during the labour disruption.