Porter Airlines’ ‘whisper’ planes takeoff from the island airport

Controversial new airline goes wheels-up, and some of the island airport's neighbours aren't looking forward to the racket

An island resident and community activist doesn’t like the sound of Porter Airlines’ flight plans for Toronto’s Island airport.

And now that Porter Airlines Inc. has begun its controversial service out of Toronto City Centre Airport (TCCA), Marc Brien of CommunityAir (Airport Impact Review) says the accompanying increase in noise levels will negatively affect nearby residents.

Porter Airlines will initially operate 10 round-trip flights to and from Ottawa, with plans to add more flights to additional routes. The airline chose to build its fleet with Bombardier’s, Toronto-built, 70-seat Q400 turboprop aircraft, an airplane designed to run quieter. According to Bombardier, the advanced technology in the Q400 makes it one of the quietest turboprop airplanes in service.

Brien disagrees with that assertion.

“I’ve read the ridiculous statement in the media that these are whisper planes. Well, that’s laughable,” Brien said. “And the concern in the community is that the closest housing to this airport is 300 metres away or less.”

Quieter than a garbage truck

Bombardier says the 94.3 decibel reading of the Q400 when landing is louder than a subway, but quieter than a garbage truck.

Donald J. Carty, chairman of Porter Airlines, has said on record that noise concerns are a non-issue and opponents will realize now that flights have started taking off.

CommunityAir remains unconvinced. The group cites several reports and studies of other urban airports that conclude quality of life begins to deteriorate at the 50 decibel level, well below airport noise levels.

“People on the other side always talk about us as just a motley band of islanders, but in fact we’re the establishment on this issue,” said Brien, himself an island resident.

Frank Russo, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Ryerson University, described the impact these noise levels will have on the TCCA’s neighbours.

“When you’re up at 80 (decibels) and above, if you’re exposed to these levels for an extended period of time, as people will be in the area surrounding the island airport, it will have an effect on hearing ability over the long term,” he said.

Number of takeoffs and landings a problem

Statistics published by the Canadian Hearing Society reveal exposure to noise at a level of 94 decibels will cause hearing damage within one hour. With 10 landings per day generating 94.3 decibels and 10 takeoffs producing 78.3, Russo said the frequency of these events will add to the problem.

The increased noise coming from the airport will also hurt something as fundamental as personal communication, he said.

“Beyond the long term looming threat of adding noise to an urban environment, there’s the issue of people being able to talk comfortably with one another,” Russo said. “The simple solution when there’s noise is that you scream at one another, you talk louder.”

With the first daily flights scheduled to take off at 7 a.m., local residents fear their sleep will be cut short by airport operations, Brien said.

“A real pain for some”

“They’re going to be ramping up the planes as early as five in the morning, doing testing and maintenance,” he said. “It’s going to be a real pain for some people.”

Porter Airlines maintains that its operations will fall within the noise limits set in a 1983 agreement between the Government of Canada, City of Toronto and the Toronto Port Authority.

Russo added that increased decibel levels increase general distraction.

“Whenever you introduce this kind of perceptual noise, the cognitive system requires more energy to focus on whatever it’s doing,” he said. “Part of its job is to filter out all of the garbage. So basically you’re stealing something away from your attentional resources.”

Porter Airlines has purchased 10 Bombardier Q400 aircraft, with an option for 10 more. The airline plans to fly to Canadian and U.S. destinations within 926 kilometres of Toronto.