Pickering airports urgent timeline

A timeline for the Pickering airport as purposed by AECOM.

A new proposed timeline for Pickering airport pushes another five years beyond a hoped-for 2028 opening.  What is going on and why are we delaying a badly needed piece of infrastructure? The time line, purposed by AECOM at a recent planning and information session in Durham region, pushed the opening date for Pickering’s new airport back to 2032. That was startling enough to the urban planners, businessmen, and aviation experts in the room. But the real punchline was, in order to meet the 2032 date, the development process needs to start immediately!

Consultants from AECOM took a practical approach to estimating the project’s timeline by using other airport projects of similar size as a guide. Of note is the comparison between Australia’s new Western Sydney airport, opening in 2026, and Pickering airport. It turns out that Sydney and Toronto have a lot in common. Both metropolises are growing rapidly, outstripping their access to existing aviation infrastructure. Both are solving this problem by building new jet airports to increase capacity and improve accessibility to aviation. The Australians are simply getting out in front of the problem rather than waiting for the last possible moment as Canada appears to be doing.

A good overview of the Sydney airport can be found here.

Building a single runway, and then growing the airports capacity by adding additional runways and infrastructure is allowing the new Western Sydney airport to contain costs. This approach was first proposed in 2011 for Pickering by a group of Private investors (Pickering Airpark Limited Partnership). It could cut years off the airports development timeline and reduce costs. (Note: author had a non-paying role providing technical leadership to the Airpark )

Assuming that Pickering follows a path similar to Western Sydney,  it is simply not possible for Pickering airport to open in 2028. This is the year many aviation experts expect Toronto’s  only jet airport, Pearson International, to start to reach its practical capacity.  From this point forward demand outstrips supply by at least 3% a year. While this might be good for the bottom line of the monopoly running Pearson, and the entrenched airlines lucky enough to own landing slots, it will be disastrous for Toronto. It will hurt our environment, our economy, and the average traveler just trying to get into or out of Toronto by air.

Forecasted passenger demand and capacity for the Toronto region. Demand could outstrip supply as early as 2028. Even with Pickering opening in 2028 it will be hard-pressed to expand quickly enough to meet the forecasted CAGR ( Compound Annual Growth Rate).

So why are our elected federal officials delaying the start of Pickering airport year after year? By delaying they have turned a straight forward process into one requiring hard choices. Or is that the intent?  Will the wasted fuel and greenhouse gas emissions caused by daily congestion at Pearson be used as an excuse by a future government to cut corners on its environmental assessments?  In a few years, will voters, desperate to return to the “good old days” of accessible air travel, demand an airport at any price?  Is this a setup for a contractors dream, a rushed over budget mega project?

If we wish to build Pickering airport properly, with forethought and proper planning, we have not a moment to lose.

The final build-out of Western Sydney airport would have a capacity similar to Pickering airport.