August 17, 2017

Pickering Progress


Ed. Note: The following was written by Mark Brooks, an investor in a proposed GA airport for land held by the federal government for a major international airport east of Toronto. It is in response to a story in COPA eFlight two weeks ago based on a Toronto Star story outlining the cost of the lands to taxpayers.

By Mark Brooks

The Pickering lands, 18,000 acres just east of Toronto, were originally assembled by the federal government 45 years ago. This land has been set aside for use as a future airport and over the years managed by Transport Canada. Less than 40 minutes from downtown Toronto, this wise land investment has multiplied many times over its original purchase price.

Recently the federal government began to fulfill the promise of this land by turning the part not needed for an airport into a park. It is also ending incentives given to a handful of farmers currently on the land, allowing lease rates to go from the current average of around $40 an acre to $120, a rate closer to market value.  This money can now be better spent in public infrastructure development and creating jobs.

In 2016 the Polonsky report , the first independent report done in years for the federal government, recommended retaining part of the land for an airport. Transport Canada has commissioned a follow up study that is due to be released in 2018.

Pearson airport, the only airport in Toronto’s passenger catchment area built for jet aircraft, is seeing an all time high in both traffic levels and passenger numbers.  This year runway maintenance activities from March to May, forced Pearson to implement North America’s most restrictive flow control by requiring 48 hours prior notice for the landing or departure of aircraft.  This has seen many aircraft diverted to Buttonville Municipal Airport due weather and traffic delays.

Over six years ago, a group of local Toronto pilots formed an corporation to aide the government in fulfilling the Pickering Airport promise.  With a private group proposing the development of an airport using private capital, it would appear that an airport should be in Pickering’s future. With a multi-billion dollar land investment at stake, competing interests have other ideas.  These interests include the farmers currently renting the land, airlines and other aviation interests that have invested heavily in Pearson airport and don’t want free market competition, and municipalities to the west of Toronto that would rather have the growth “channeled towards them”.
The Canadian taxpayers and the traveling public will be watching how the federal government manages this asset. Will free market competition be allowed to define the new Pickering airport? Or will the forces currently lobbying against the airport win the day? The only thing certain is that you can expect to see the Pickering lands in the news again soon.