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Apr 22, 2007
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Kelly Patrick
National Post

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Toronto's Pearson International Airport will hit capacity in less than 20 years, according to an assessment from the agency that runs the country's largest airport.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority [GTAA] makes that forecast as part of a new long-term plan it will submit to Ottawa by the end of this year.

"This will be the first time that a master plan for Toronto Pearson airport projects the fact that Pearson airport will reach its capacity," Toby Lennox, the vice-president of corporate affairs for the GTTA, told council's planning and growth committee yesterday. "We will be able to reach a certain size at roughly 50 million passengers and at that point other alternatives will have to be explored."

In an interview, he predicted Pearson would reach capacity by "2025 or 2027," despite $4.5-billion in improvements and expansions to the facility since 1996.

The Pearson forecast will likely bring renewed attention to a hotly contested plan to build a new airport in Pickering. The federal government has considered the idea of constructing another international airport in Pickering since 1972, when it bought and set aside 18,000 acres of land in Pickering, Markham and Uxbridge.

Most recently, Transport Canada, which owns the Pickering airport lands, ordered a "needs assessment study" for a potential airport on the site.

In May, Transport Canada awarded the contract to conduct the study to the GTAA.

The study is due at the end of this year -- the same time as Pear-son's 2008-2030 master plan.

Paula Fairfax, a Transport Canada spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the "capacity of Lester B. Pearson International Airport is also being evaluated," as part of the Pickering study. However, Transport will not make a final decision on the airport until 2009 at the earliest.
Um, how can the GTAA be trusted to conduct a study as to whether a new airport needs to be built? Isn't that something of a conflict of interest?
Pickering airport fight takes off again

Sep 07, 2007 04:30 AM
Theresa Boyle
Staff reporter

For a man who flies every day, Michael Robertson is an unlikely opponent to a new airport in his hometown of Pickering.

But the 65-year-old says it's precisely because he takes to the skies so frequently over north Pickering that he sees the need to protect this swath of rolling countryside from such development.

"It's the last, best farmland, the most beautiful farmland in Canada. I see the incredible environmental disaster that could happen if an airport is built here," he said.

Robertson is the owner and operator of the High Precision gliding school. The hang-gliding operation is located on the so-called airport lands, as is his home, in which he has lived for more than 35 years.

Robertson is also one of the founders of Land over Landings (LOL), which represents residents opposed to the airport.

"It's just so wrong. It's not needed and it will be too expensive, just like Mirabel was," he said, referring the white elephant airport built near Montreal.

The on-again-off-again plans for the airport were put back on the rails in May when the federal government asked the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to assess the need for an airport in Pickering. A final decision isn't expect until at least 2009.

LOL says that the GTAA has a blatant conflict, in having previously tried to push the airport ahead. Indeed, three years ago the GTAA completed a draft plan for a Pickering airport and this week it told Toronto councillors that a Pickering airport is needed to keep Toronto economically viable.

The debate over whether to build an airport in Pickering dates back to 1972, when the federal government expropriated 7,500 hectares to build the facility.

A major outcry ensued and plans were eventually derailed. But every few years, the issue resurfaces.

The piece of countryside in question, meantime, remains stuck in time. There used to be 700 homes here; today there are fewer than 300. Of those, more than 100 are boarded up. The others are rented out to residents by Transport Canada, the Ontario Realty Corp. and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority.

Durham Region chair Roger Anderson, a long-time proponent of the airport, is confident that one day it will be built there.

"Not only will it be there but you'll need it there," he said.

"Toronto and the GTA are going to double in size by 2030. Traffic will be so big that Pearson won't be able to handle it all."
He contends that local resistance to the plan isn't as great as it once was.

"Until the government moves ahead, we're still going to have people fighting a battle that's 30 years old," he said.

But Liberal MP Mark Holland (Ajax-Pickering) accused the Conservative government in Ottawa of trying to squelch opposition to the airport by literally getting rid of it.

"The government has undertaken a policy of not re-tenanting homes. They're boarding them up, allowing them to deteriorate because they are trying to de-populate northern Pickering," he charged.

"They have destroyed a community that was there and are getting rid of homes."

Robertson says there's one upside to the years of indecision about the land – it's been preserved.

"There's no question, it would have been developed," he said, had it not been in limbo.

Meantime, the new provincial body in charge of transportation planning in the region doesn't have an official position on the Pickering airport yet, said Rob MacIsaac, chair of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority.

But the GTTA is mandated by law to create a plan that conforms with Ontario's official growth plan, which mentions downtown Pickering as a growth hub.

Still, MacIsaac said, "We're not going to build major infrastructure until we know (the airport) is a go. In the interim we've got lots to keep us busy in properly servicing Pearson and Hamilton," he said.
Um, how can the GTAA be trusted to conduct a study as to whether a new airport needs to be built? Isn't that something of a conflict of interest?

They can't be trusted and this whole process stinks to high heaven. We need an independant assessment of the GTAA and its plans.
Agreed. Pickering is such a bad site for an airport in terms of topography and was a very political site. (it was selected merely to fit Davis' Toronto-Centred Plan of the 1970s, which was to encourage growth east of Toronto)

Meanwhile GTAA is spending billions to expand Pearson (which I don't mind, make the best use of an existing site). For the money just to build Pickering, we could have high speed rail on the corridor.

But I guess GTAA is trying to live up to its name - the first A stands for Airports.
If the GTA really does need a new airport, why not sell the Pickering airport, and spend a billion dollars on a HSR link along the lakeshore GO corridor linking Hamilton airport and Union, with maybe an inbetween stop in Mississauga. Then Hamilton can be expanded.
Doesn't it seem strange that Pearson is going to be "at capacity" despite having five or six runways? Heathrow, which handles double the traffic, has two. Gatwick, which still handles more traffic than Pearson, has one Surely more can be squeezed out of this site than 50 million passengers a year.
I wonder if it's not an issue of capacity during the busy hour, rather than overall capacity. There's a lot of flights that go out from 7:00 - 9:00 am to get business people off to another city for a day of work. You've also got a lot of flights coming in, the west coast red-eyes, and then connector flights from east coast, Quebec and Ottawa. After 9:00 am Lester B. Pearson airport gets a lot quieter.

Heathrow, on the other hand, is a busy international airport, and so you would have long-haul flights coming throughout the day, and would be more evenly spread out.
I suspect it is the nature of North American airports to have very sporadic peak loads, due to the huge volume of flights that go trans-atlantic from afternoon to evening at the big hubs like YYZ as well as the morning bump you mention. Nonetheless you have to build for the peak, right?

What I'm curious about is whether by 'capacity' they mean square feet of runway, or of terminal. The solutions could be quite different depending on which it is.
I like the idea of a high-speed rail link between Toronto and Hamilton to connect the airports. Would be far more sensible than building a whole new airport in Pickering. Although I think Pearson has more than enough capacity as is and with all the expansion going on there.
i was also gonna say, that the high speed rail link between toronto and hamilton's airports is an excellent idea. much better than a new airport in pickering
Toronto and the GTA are going to double in size by 2030

really? toronto will double in population? that seems kinda large of an increase, too large to be true if you ask me.
I'm not too versed on exactly what's going on with Pickering, but I think they're pitching a new airport in that direction because eventually that's where the growth of the GTA is going to be directed. The west end of the lake is pretty solidly built... between Hamilton and Toronto, there's really only the hinterland of Halton that's still available. North, in York Region and the less developed part of Peel, you come up against the green belt, particularly the Oak Ridges Moraine, and that's a barrier to growth... but I think it's one we'd all like to see preserved for the future. So it seems to me, and I guess to others, that development a couple of generations hence will be moving east along the lake in a way that it hasn't had to till now. Combine that with the fact that much of our just-in-time manufacturing is centred in Durham, and you can see why they might be thinking this way. I can remember going to public planning meetings for the 407 around 1990 (before they decided to make it a toll road, even), and that was some of the reasoning behind that project, even back then.

I'm happy to see the Mt. Hope airport being vetted to step up to the plate. As I've said elsewhere, that's one of the reasons they're building the Red Hill Creek Expressway. There's an international airport on the Mountain operating 24/7 that's underutilized because it's so hard to get to. Once there are more transportation amenities around it, that should change; I know Hamilton has hopes it will enhance the viability of light industry up there. There's an advantage to this plan in that the Mt. Hope airport already exists. But there are some downsides, too.

The first is the location. It serves the west end. That in and of itself is a good thing, but for people with concerns about growth in the east and servicing its needs, Mt. Hope doesn't solve their problems. So for them, it's a good addition, but it's not an alternative.

Second is the matter of the high speed rail that's been suggested. Again, not a bad idea in itself, but Mt. Hope is up on the Escarpment, and most of the GTA is below it. Somewhere, at some point, it has to come down. That could render it rather less direct than folks might at first suppose.

Third is, as always, the NIMBY factor. The same crowd who didn't want the RHC Expy are very likely going to be the people who are going to object to expanded use of the airport, and all it implies. They're very likely going to be the people who obstruct, for years and years, the construction of high speed rail facilities that facilitate expanded use. Of course, the same can be said for Pickering, obviously.

I don't agree that the GTAA's study is necessarily suspect (though it may be). I mean, sure, if you can establish that several of the members own land at the site and stand to walk away millionaires, I guess that's one thing. Otherwise, they're like any other group of people charged with a particular responsibility. They're just looking at trends, forecasting them, matching them against known capacities, and making a recommendation. They might be giving us the worst case scenario (after all, they did say "may hit capacity"), but then if they said "by 2050", who in power today would listen? Besides, all they can do is recommend. The impartial people you say should have the final judgement do; they're in the federal transportation department. Nothing's going to happen unless they're convinced the argument is a solid one.
I wonder what transportation links the Pickering airport would require? Presumably, it would need a 400-series highway to connect it to the 401 (realizing that the site is next to the 407).

I agree with Lone Primate that wherever a new airport is built, it will need to be in the eastern Golden Horseshoe. Hamilton could also be expanded at the same time, and it could be made to better serve areas such as Niagara, London, etc., but the eastern horseshoe would have to be addressed somehow.