POLITICS

Porter CEO, Toronto councillor confident of victory in battle over jets

05/27/2013 11:18 EDT | Updated 07/27/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Both sides in the battle over whether to allow jets to fly out of Toronto's waterfront airport say they are confident that they will ultimately prevail.

Porter Airlines CEO Robert Deluce believes municipal politicians will give their nod because Porter's plan addresses the technical issues that concern most people.

"I think that we have an excellent chance of getting the required approvals that would allow these whisper jets to start operating by as early as January 2016," he said in an interview.

Deluce was in Montreal on Monday to receive an honorary doctorate of science degree from McGill University.

Coun. Adam Vaughan said he's equally sure that his colleagues will reject the effort when it comes back for a final vote.

He said it would be very difficult to restrict the airport to just one type of jet.

Toronto council recently voted 29-15 to send the proposal to staff for further study and recommendation.

But Vaughan said many who voted yes indicated to him that they did so only because they want more information to back up their opposition.

"I'm very confident that the move to protect the waterfront will end up protecting the waterfront," he said from Toronto.

A vocal critic of the proposed expansion, Vaughan said there is no way the city can properly assess the environmental and other potential impacts by Porter's July deadline.

He called Deluce's efforts to plug the expansion a marketing campaign whose real goal is to attract a buyer for Porter.

Deluce denied the assertion and said Bombardier's CSeries will be as quiet as the Q400 turboprops currently in use and the boat exclusion zone will remain untouched despite a required runway extension of 168 metres at both ends.

Dealing with the noise and exclusion zone issues address most concerns anyone "could reasonably have" with the proposal, he said.

City council support is essential to amending a tripartite agreement with the federal government and the port authority that prevents jets from using Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport except under special circumstances.

Deluce said winning council support won't be undermined by the controversy surrounding Mayor Rob Ford, a key backer.

He said Porter never counted on the mayor and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, to lead the fight to allow the airline to fly jets out of the airport on the city's waterfront.

"We are appreciative of their votes but we're...hopeful that at the end of the day we'll enjoy a good cross-section of support from all councillors."

The mayor has denied allegations published in various media that he smoked crack cocaine, while his brother has denied a report that alleged he dealt hashish as a young man.

Vaughan said Ford's support ultimately hurts Porter's cause.

"The fact that the mayor supports it only makes it easier to stop."

Porter Airlines last month placed a conditional order for 12 CS100 aircraft, with 18 options worth about US$2.08 billion. The aircraft would allow it to fly to Los Angeles, Florida, Calgary and the Caribbean from Toronto.

Critics say Porter doesn't attract sufficient traffic to make a strong business case to fly the CSeries from the airport.

But Deluce disagreed, saying the flights would attract sufficient number of passengers from the Toronto area and from its other airports.

He added that the aircraft could be used out of mini hubs in Ottawa, Montreal or Halifax, or eventually from airports in Western Canada.

Deluce said he expects other airlines could eventually fly the CSeries out of the Toronto airport if they can obtain landing slots.