7 News Archive
STOL lands again
By Ulli Diemer
Seven News, December 5, 1980

Seemingly safely buried only a month and a half ago, the proposal for a major commercial airport on the Toronto Islands appears to be back on the political agenda.

Proposed plans for a short-take-off-and-landing (STOL) airport on the islands seemed to have been thoroughly stalled by opposition from citizens’ groups and Toronto city council, leading the Canadian Transport Commission in mid-October to refuse to license any applicants for a STOL service.

But Toronto’s new mayor Art Eggleton has other ideas: he is in favour of STOL, and hopes to get the new city council to reverse the city’s previous stand.

Opponents of the scheme are once again gearing up to try to block the scheme, which they consider would be a major environmental disruption to the islands, the waterfront, and to east-end residential Toronto. (The flight path would be directly over Ward 8 and the Beaches). The disruption would increase with time, as the initial 25 flights a day were increased and as the original propeller-driven Dash-7 plane was replaced by newer jet models.

Being in the flight path of a jet airport is not designed to improve residential neighbourhoods or to raise property values, STOL’s opponents point out.

In addition to environmental concerns, the other big debating point is economics.

STOL’s proponents portray the benefits as being reduced travel time to Montreal (STOL would initially fly only between Toronto and Montreal) and a shot in the arm for Canada’s aircraft manufacturing industry.

However, even in those terms there would be a net economic loss. A study done by the federal government, which has backed STOL, indicated that the net loss would be $54 million over 10 years. Total cost of the project was estimated to be in the neighbourhood of $200 million.

Against these costs are set benefits, consisting primarily of an estimated $42 million in sales for the manufacturer of the plane, and savings in time, on which the federal study put a value of between $53 million and $91 million. The economic value of the time saved was calculated by estimating that the average STOL traveller would be earning a salary that works out to $19.50 an hour. (It is estimated that over 90 per cent of the users of the service would be businessmen.) In a pilot STOL service set up between Ottawa and Montreal in 1974-76, the average income of passengers, at that time, was $30,000 per year.

One transportation researcher, Julius Lukasiewicz, summed up the economic balance sheet thusly: “In effect, STOL would provide superior service only to a small sector of the most affluent public. But this is not all: since it would result in considerable ‘net economic disbenefits’, it would do so at the expense of all taxpayers, mostly the lower-income groups.”

Lukasiewicz also points out that the time savings are not actually created by reduced travelling time, as is commonly supposed. The STOL airports’ downtown locations would save travellers 24 minutes in ground travel time going to and from the airport. But because the plane itself is slower, they will spend an extra 25 minutes in the air, so total travelling time would actually be a minute longer. But where the time is actually to be saved is in improved terminal processing and baggage handling, which supposedly would take 20 minutes less than at conventional airports.

As Lukasiewicz notes, if such streamlined procedures are actually available, then why not introduce them at regular airports?

Other opponents of STOL argue that in a time where energy is becoming more and more of a scarce resource, it makes much more sense to concentrate on improving high-speed inter-city train service. For

This article was published in Seven News, Volume 11, Number 12, December 5, 1980

Related Topics:
Air TravelAirport PlanningAirportsToronto/Island AirportToronto WaterfrontTransportation Policy