From group evacuations, to moving corporate or government decision makers and technical specialists, Business Aviation (BA) is seeing a major bump from the fears of a global COVID-19 pandemic. Business aviation is once again showing the important logistical role it plays in Canada. But a new restrictive BA reservation system at Toronto Pearson International Airport and a long-term goal of squeezing out short-notice, small aircraft movements from Pearson could put this in jeopardy. The new airport in Pickering, although designed primarily for passenger jets, will play an important role providing the new capacity needed to support both Business and General Aviation (GA).
The latest GTAA master plan clearly intends to reduce short-haul flights and business jet movements to free up capacity for larger passenger jets. Pickering Airport will be part of the solution by picking up both the short haul movements squeezed out of Pearson as well as up to half of its business jet activity. General aviation will also benefit. This sector is an often misunderstood but critically important part of the Canadian aviation ecosystem. From low-end piston engine aircraft to fire-breathing special use turbine bush planes, GA connects the back-of-beyond Ontario to the heart of Toronto.
Today GA has mostly been squeezed out of Pearson by high costs and lack of capacity, but special use aviation remains. This includes police and air ambulance aircraft that enhance the safety, health and security, for us all. This will shift in part to Pickering. Advanced flight training is also expected take place at the new Pickering Airport.
Time is of the essence for business jets and turboprops since their goal is to move high-value technical, business and government leadership on short notice to the locations needed in a timely fashion. Up to now this role has been provided by flight operations based mostly at Pearson airport, but capacity constraints at Pearson have forced the introduction in 2019 of one of North America’s most draconian BA flight reservation systems.
Pearson now requires reservation for both GA and Business jet traffic. Reservations can be made days in advance but they can,and do, refuse landing rights for a requested date or time. Just being authorized to use the reservation system can take seven days. Even if granted, a small jet can spend up to an hour or more on the ground before taking off on a flight to Pearson, due to a traffic restriction system called flow Control. This makes Business jet traffic between other busy airports and Pearson especially problematic and makes arrival times and fuel loads unpredictable. The FBOs (Fixed Base Operators) that support BA at Pearson are world-class service providers and can secure a reservation for a fee but have no influence on flow control. Today Pearson is one of the most expensive airports in North America for a Business jet to use.
The importance of BA as a competitive tool is well established. Companies that use Corporate aircraft to transport key business and technical personnel outperform nonusers by 70% according to the CBAA (Canadian Business Aviation Association). Pickering Airport will have the capacity to fill this demand and will follow the models in use at other major Canadian and US airports. At Pickering a pilot will simply file a flight plan choosing the arrival time that he would like and after landing have a choice of parking at several competing FBOs. Due to this advantage, Pickering is expected to become the preeminent business airport for the Toronto region. Diverting smaller aircraft to Pickering will also improve Pearson’s traffic flow and improve its passenger jet capacity.
Among the first users of Pickering Airport will be the BA and GA communities. It is important to listen to their needs and to set aside the space for general aviation. This should include a GA ramp, space for hangars and providing a competitive environment for support businesses.