Ottawa issues RFP for new aviation study on need for Pickering Airport

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Published April 18, 2023 at 4:31 pm

The off-again, on-again aviation study on the future need for an international airport in Pickering is back on after federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Tuesday that Ottawa is looking to hire an aviation services professional to analyze the issue.

The proposed airport in north Pickering has been simmering on Pickering’s backburner since Ottawa expropriated lands to build an airport more than 50 years ago. Those lands have been either vacant or continued to be farmed ever since and have been reduced in size several times in the intervening years, with some going to create the Rouge National Urban Park.

A bloc of Pickering Councillors – backed by environmental groups such as Land Over Landings – want to put the matter to bed once and for all, citing a KPMG study released in 2020 that determined existing airports in the area could handle projected growth to 2036 as long as additional expansions were realized.

“A new airport is not expected to be required in southern Ontario prior to 2036 to meet the forecast demand,” the report declared, with the proviso that the study findings “do not preclude the need for a new airport in southern Ontario beyond the 20-year planning horizon.”

A vote on the issue is on the agenda for the April 24 Pickering Council meeting.

The issue actually came to a vote two weeks ago but was deferred after Mayor Kevin Ashe – a long-time proponent of the airport (as was his predecessor, Dave Ryan) – said Ottawa had issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new study and that it would be “premature” to make a decision until the results of the study are announced.

That study, however, disappeared from the government website within days of Ashe’s claim, leading to speculation the RFP had been shelved. A search on the website came up with “subject not found.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra

In an unusual twist, Alghabra announced that his ministry has just now issued the RFP to hire an aviation professional services contractor to “help the department analyze current and future airport supply and demand in Southern Ontario.”

The contractor will assist Transport Canada officials in scoping the requirements for a comprehensive study of airport capacity in Southern Ontario, as well as a formal consultation process.

Following the study, Transport Canada will post a second RFP to engage a third-party contractor to undertake the study as well as the consultation.

“Air travel is essential to growing an economy that works for everyone and creating good, middle-class jobs in southern Ontario and the rest of the country,” Alghabra said in a statement. “As we continue to support the recovery of the air sector, there is a need to study and understand the potential impacts of a growing population on existing airport infrastructure. Today is the beginning of a process to analyze the future of the Southern Ontario airport system.”

“This work will also bring us closer to making a final decision on the Pickering Lands.”

Alghabra said significant growth in the GTA expected over the next two decades prompted the move. “This is why the Government of Canada needs to assess the requirement for additional airport capacity in the region.

He called the study a “first step” towards making a final decision to address future airport capacity constraints in the region, and on the future of the Pickering Lands.

“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 in the long term.”

Mary Delaney, the Chair of Land Over Landings, is confident the study will show an airport is not needed in Pickering and is pleased a federal cabinet minister is admitting that may be the end result of the study.
“For the first time ever, Transport Canada is suggesting there may not be a need EVER for an airport on the Pickering Lands. Until now, every statement has indicated they would hang onto the Lands forever, if necessary,” Delaney said. “We regard this as a critical first step towards the permanent protection of these precious farmlands, hopefully within the Rouge National Urban Park.”

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