May 4, 2023

Transport Canada initiates study for decision on new Southern Ontario airport

Jon Robinson

Omar Alghabra, Canada’s Minister of Transport, on April 18 made a somewhat quiet announcement, relative to its potential impact on Canadian aviation, that Transport Canada issued a Request for Proposals to hire an aviation professional services contractor to help the department analyze current and future airport supply and demand in Southern Ontario. This move is seen as a first step toward making a final decision about building an airport on the Pickering Lands, which has been under assessment since 1972.

Transport Canada (TC) will then post a second RFP to engage a third-party contractor to undertake the study and consultation. The government describes this analysis as a first step toward making a final decision to address the future of the Pickering Lands.

Southern Ontario is Canada’s most populous area, with Greater Toronto (GTA) alone home to more than 6.3 million people – “This is why the Government needs to assess the requirement for additional airport capacity in the region.”

Transport Canada added a disclaimer on April 18: “We have no intention to proceed with building an airport on the Pickering Lands in the near term and the conclusions of the study could lead, for example, to a determination that an airport on the Pickering Lands is not required.” But the process to arrive at a decision is underway.

“Today is the beginning of a process to analyze the future of the Southern Ontario airport system,” said Alghabra. “This work will also bring us closer to making a final decision on the Pickering Lands.”

One of the hurdles for building the Pickering Lands airport rests with dozens of agricultural leases in the area. In 1972, Ottawa acquired 75 km2 of land, 56 kilometers northeast of downtown Toronto to develop a new airport. In 1975, this plan was put on hold in favour of expanding existing airports. Properties on the Pickering Lands have been leased to residential, farm and commercial tenants since then. There are now around 172 agricultural, 64 residential and 48 commercial leases within the Pickering Lands.

The agricultural leases within the Pickering Lands are held at $120/year per workable acre. All agricultural leases effective April 1, 2018, have 10-year terms at the same leasing rate. A Needs Assessment Study released in 2011 predicted an additional airport would be needed in the GTA between 2027 and 2037 and confirmed that the Pickering Lands would be an ideal location. The data used for the 2011 study dates back to 2010 which is why Ottawa moved to update the information.

(Image: KPMG, Pickering Lands Aviation Sector)