A Message From Our CEO: Toronto’s Downtown Airport Critical to the Restart of Ontario’s Urban Visitor Economy

June 23, 2021

Today, Nieuport Aviation is supporting the industry-wide #traveldayofaction in the UK and the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable’s #timetotravel campaign. Essentially, both represent the aviation and travel industry and aim to reopen international travel safely for full vaccinated individuals this summer.

According to Destination Toronto, Toronto has lost roughly $8.3 billion in economic activity since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. Cancelled conferences. Empty hotel rooms. Closed restaurants, and vacant tourist attractions. It is a deep hole, and it will require unprecedented determination, innovation and cooperation by business and government across the city to lift ourselves out of it. But it is achievable. We can recover quickly, provided we pull the right economic levers to enable that resurgence.

Travel will be essential to driving that type of recovery. It will bring people back to conference halls, back to our tourist attractions and to all that downtown Toronto has to offer. Billy Bishop Airport will play a critical role in that, having historically contributed roughly $2 billion to the local economy each year pre-pandemic through business and tourism.

Air traffic at the downtown airport has been sparse for the past 16 months, and the absence of commercial flights taking off and landing has made it easier to overlook the airport’s importance to the local economy in the normal course, and certainly in a post-pandemic recovery. But when the first commercial plane lands at the airport once operations resume, it will be delivering the people and their wallets that will fuel the restart of the urban visitor economy.

There will be many drivers of the economic recovery in the months to come. But there is universal agreement that bringing people back into the core of the city is one of the best ways to drive that resurgence. This is about filling restaurants and bars, moving the turnstiles at tourist attractions, delivering attendees to conferences, and driving demand for retail shopping that has largely evaporated from the downtown core. We need to start putting heads back on pillows.

As part of the return to robust domestic and international air travel, Billy Bishop Airport and Toronto Pearson International Airport will each play vital roles in delivering these drivers of economic growth. Both airports are part of an efficient and complementary regional airport network that ensures travelers have a multitude of options for accessing Toronto, depending on their travel needs and where they are arriving from or departing to. The downtown airport itself serves as critical connective tissue between the core of Canada’s financial services sector at King and Bay to key business destinations with our largest trading partner in the Northeastern US.

The value to the regional economy is the airport system as a whole, and not pitting its component parts against one another. This holistic approach is more evident in London, Paris and Tokyo, cities that benefit from an inter-connected airport and public transportation network to efficiently move travelers to and from major urban centers.

It is this coordinated approach to moving travelers to and from Toronto that will drive the restart of the urban visitor economy. Nieuport Aviation, as the owner and operator of the Billy Bishop Airport passenger terminal, is committed to ensuring Billy Bishop Airport is ready to safely and responsibly welcome travelers back to downtown Toronto as soon as commercial flights resume. Pre-pandemic, the traveler experience at Billy Bishop Airport was ranked among the best in Canada. We’ve set the standard for how to greet travelers to the city, and we are firmly committed to doing our part to putting Canada and Toronto in the best position to build back better as we move out of the pandemic.

Nieuport Aviation has invested more than $700M in the Billy Bishop Airport passenger terminal to date, and we are committed to investing in new projects and upgrades that will help Toronto continue to grow as an economic hub long-term. This includes further terminal upgrades and a commitment to moving forward with a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol pre-clearance facility. The latter will open up new routes to destinations in the U.S. Northeast. These are shovel-ready projects that can be implemented in time to contribute to Toronto’s recovery. The value of the downtown airport is underscored by the fact that, in the midst of the pandemic, Connect Airlines, a new U.S.-based regional airline, has expressed interest in operating out of the airport and expanding our connectivity to new U.S. cities, complementing our existing routes with Porter and Air Canada..

The reopening of our southern border and moving people back into the core of the city are catalysts for the recovery of the urban visitor economy in Toronto. And while economists predict the recovery curve to be steep, if the last year has taught us anything, it is that we will need a coordinated and thoughtful approach to pulling the right levers and ensuring that growth is indeed steep, but also sustainable.

Billy Bishop Airport’s ability to deliver thousands of travelers per day right into the heart of the city will be a significant contributor to that growth in the near term, and a vital part of an integrated and world-class airport and public transportation network for Toronto over the long-term. That is to all our benefit.

Neil Pakey is the CEO of Nieuport Aviation and has served as the Chair of the UK's Regional and Business Airports Group since 2016. For the Tourism industry, Neil has served as Chair of Mersey Tourism and as a Non-Executive Director for Welcome2Yorkshire.

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