Is there a park in Toronto Island airport’s future?


The Empire Club of Canada hosted a virtual panel discussion on Thursday, July 15, on the importance of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (aka the Island airport) to Toronto’s post-pandemic economic recovery. 

On that question, there was unanimous consent from the panellists: Neil Pakey, CEO of Nieuport Aviation, owner and operator of the passenger terminal at Billy Bishop; John Thomas, CEO of Connect Airlines, a U.S.-based airline that plans to fly out of Billy Bishop starting in November; and Scott Beck, President and CEO of Destination Toronto. 

Pakey offered the optimistic view that economic spinoffs generated by the airport could hit $5 billion in just a few short years. 

There has been a long-standing debate on just how much of an economic impact the airport has on the Toronto area’s GDP. Depending on your reading of the available data, it’s anywhere from $650 million to $2 billion a year.

The pandemic has all but obliterated the aviation industry. The economic fallout from the suspension of global airline traffic has been “catastrophic,” Pakey acknowledges. But the sky is the limit, as it were, with numbers in the U.S. post-pandemic quickly returning in some markets to pre-pandemic levels, Pakey pointed out. 

But an important name to long-time opponents of expansion plans at the airport was missing from the discussion. 

Robert Deluce, executive chair of Porter Airlines, the main carrier currently operating out of Billy Bishop, has plans to resume flights on September 8. 

The company has also recently announced the purchase of up to 80 new mid-sized jets from a Brazilian manufacturer.

It wasn’t too long ago that Deluce was pushing expansion plans for Billy Bishop that involved extending the runway into Toronto Harbour so that the airport could accommodate jets to add to Porter’s fleet of 30 turboprop Dash 8 planes currently headquartered at Billy Bishop. That plan was spiked amid opposition from waterfront community groups, as well as opposition from Air Canada, which is the other carrier out of Billy Bishop.

But Deluce plans to fly his new jets out of Pearson starting in the second half of 2022. He says that Billy Bishop will continue to be Porter’s base of operations, but for how long is the question.