Checking all the boxes

In the last 10 years, annual passenger traffic at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (CYTZ) has skyrocketed from 25,000 to more than 2.8 million people circulating through the facility each year. But the island airport, situated across the 400-foot Western Gap channel from downtown Toronto, has been checking off other boxes, too.

Porter Airlines Q400
Billy Bishop airport recently completed a $35 million project to rebuild the entire airside–a three-year airfield rehabilitation program. Andy Cline
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“The airport has dramatically changed and [has] become more sophisticated,” said Geoffrey Wilson, CEO of PortsToronto, which owns and operates the facility. “What we’re doing is we’re responding to the opportunity for Toronto.”

The fall of 2018 marked the on-budget completion of CYTZ’s three-year airfield rehabilitation program–a $35 million project to rebuild the entire airside.

“The runways, taxiways and aprons were effectively at end of life,” explained Wilson. “They had to be completely redone.”

Since Billy Bishop Airport has just one main runway serving commercial traffic, airfield construction was limited to the hours of 11 p.m. to 6:45 a.m., when the airport is routinely closed to commercial aircraft. The overnight construction hours, to the delight of the airport’s airline partners, resulted in virtually no disruptions to airport operations or passenger service.

“We’ve had feedback from the carriers that the infrastructure is first class,” said Wilson.

Over three years of overnight airfield construction, there was only one six-minute delay in re-opening the airfield. As a result, the project was wrapped up three months ahead of schedule.

“If you know about the extraordinary discipline that one must have to operate an airport under a regulatory environment with safety. . . . to lose six minutes of operating time through three years is an extraordinary accomplishment,” Wilson commented.

Billy Bishop airport control tower
CYTZ is routinely closed to commercial aircraft between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6:45 a.m. Porter Airlines Photo

Prior to these crucial improvements, the airport celebrated an exciting addition to the southwest side of the airfield in April 2017. As part of its noise mitigation program, CYTZ made a large, and unique, investment in a ground run-up enclosure–the second of its kind in Canada.

“The planes will come in and they’ll do their post-maintenance ground run-ups for safety testing,” Wilson explained.

The enclosure has been busy since its opening; the airport performs roughly 150 ground run-up checks annually–almost one every two days.

In early 2017, CYTZ was awarded an Airports Council International award for Best Noise Mitigation Program. “We’re located right in the community, so the ability for us to act responsibly with respect to noise mitigation in particular … that’s really, really important to what we do.”

As a noise-constrained and capacity-limited airport, Billy Bishop logs about 130,000 aircraft movements per year–half of which are commercial aircraft from carriers such as Porter Airlines and Air Canada.

Some of CYTZ’s commercial operators function outside the airport’s main terminal, such as the recently-launched FlyGTA, which offers flights from Toronto to Niagara, Muskoka, and Waterloo. Taken together, airport operators provide a healthy basket of regional services for passengers.

But that’s not the only healthy characteristic of CYTZ. For the last eight years, the airport has been powered entirely by renewable energy, and its infrastructure is continuously becoming more environmentally friendly.

Porter Airlines Q400
Billy Bishop logs about 130,000 aircraft movements per year–half of which are commercial aircraft from carriers such as Porter Airlines and Air Canada. Andy Cline Photo

In 2015, the airport’s pedestrian tunnel was completed–the first of its kind in any port authority in Canada–allowing passengers to travel underneath the harbour to access the airport. Approximately 40 per cent of passengers now travel to and from the airport by walking, biking, transit or shuttle.

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“What’s interesting to me is that people are buying houses and condominiums within walking distance of the airport because they can walk to the airport,” said Wilson, adding that the tunnel is “an extraordinary development.”

Prior to the tunnel, the ferry was the only way to access the island, causing fluctuations of traffic congestion according to its sailing schedule. Now, the vast majority of passengers take the tunnel, which has had a dramatic effect on smoothing the flow of traffic.

Wilson said another sustainability goal is to electrify the current biodiesel fuel-powered ferry–an objective that is outlined in the airport’s 2018 sustainability report.

“The technologies are there,” said Wilson, “[and] it is an expense that we think is completely worth it.”

What’s the next box for Billy Bishop Airport to check off? With the City of Toronto investing in waterfront redevelopment, Wilson feels it’s important to ensure the public can visually enjoy the airport space. CYTZ is starting a project to “beautify” the outdoor public area immediately across the channel on the northern edge of the airport. Plans include creating a park space, planting trees, and adding benches for people to sit and enjoy the view.

“It’s not just about noise; it’s not just about the environmental outputs; it’s not just about traffic; it’s also about the aesthetic,” said Wilson. “That’s the fourth bucket.

“Imagine a world where we could continue to make the airport cleaner, greener, quieter and more accessible to people [who] want to walk and bike to the airport to fly for business or for leisure. That’s our vision … That’s what we’re focused on every day when we come to work.”

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