November 18, 2019
East of Toronto, plans are progressing to build a new international airport in Pickering on a land reserve set aside for that purpose more than four decades ago. Those opposing the project have consistently suggested that expanding and retrofitting a small general aviation airport in the nearby city of Oshawa is a better idea. This is a fantasy, a diversionary tale from the few who profit from the status quo to misdirect and hoodwink our political leaders. The Pickering airport development process is expected to launch with the release of the KPMG report in 2020.
Contrasting the two airports is a study in the extreme, making it easy to debunk Oshawa Airport as an alternative to Pickering. The Pickering airport will be many kilometers away from homes and businesses,nestled in a carefully set green space. The current plan features three runways, all designed to take a wide body jet aircraft. The airport will be serviced by the 407 highway, a rail line and will have access to the same pipeline that sends jet fuel to Toronto’s Pearson airport. Thanks to the Pickering Airport Site Zoning Regulations (PASZR) our federal government’s far-sighted planning has set limits on development activities under flight approach paths and around the airport. This is to both protect local residents from aircraft noise and to protect the airport from urban sprawl edging south-east from Stouffville.
The Oshawa Airport is further to the east of Toronto, is tiny in comparison to the proposed Pickering Airport and is land-locked by homes and businesses. It features one runway half the length needed by a wide body jet aircraft and a second runway one fourth of the length needed. It was built as a general aviation airport to support small aircraft. It is much further from downtown Toronto, and lacks the transportation connectivity with no opportunity for rail or highway access.
Retrofitting the Oshawa airport to handle bigger jets would require the expropriation of up to a thousand acres of prime Oshawa real estate from home and business owners. This billion-dollar disruption would just be the beginning. The Oshawa airport would require a total replacement of all of its infrastructure. The existing runways will need to be replaced in order to take the weight ten times heavier than what they are currently handling. The terminal would need to be replacedwith a passenger terminal able to handle the 16 million passengers a year projected for Pickering. The parking lots will need to be expanded to accommodate the projected passengers. Nearby roads would need to be widened, public transit added.
The tear-down and rebuilding of the Oshawa airport would cost billions more than building a new airport in Pickering. Unlike the Pickering airport, the political uncertainty around land expropriation and other unknown costs of a rebuild would scare away the prospective private investors now eyeing Pickering and leave the taxpayers holding the bill.
Shutting down the Oshawa airport during the rebuild would displace current aviation traffic that now makes Oshawa’s one of Canada’s busiest GA airports. With the Toronto aviation capacity crunch projected to become the worst in North America, it’s unlikely these displaced GA businesses, generating $100 million a year in economic activity, would survive. Think about the big dig along Eglington Avenue in Toronto, to accommodate the future LRT link. Local businesses have seen the impact of multi-year projects, causing bankruptcies.
After years of disruption and construction Oshawa residents would then wake up to a new noise reality. The Pickering Airport has a Noise Exposure Forecast (NEF) which will be well removed from population centres. Rebuilding the Oshawa airport to handle traffic intended for the Pickering airport would result in a NEF well above the level recommended for homes and schools, blanketing half the city of Oshawa.
Sticking with the well thought out plan to build a new airport in Pickering is a much better solution than rebuilding the Oshawa Airport. It will be less expensive to build Pickering, will enable the leveraging of private capital and will be a better airport when it is finished. Perhaps most important of all, the Pickering Airport will be less disruptive, both during construction and once operational, to the citizens of Oshawa and Durham region.
By the way, once Pickering airport opens Oshawa airport does not need to close.