Air travel: Growing pressures on Toronto’s Pearson International are driving the new alliance

By Hank Daniszewski, The London Free Press
Tuesday, May 9, 2017 6:08:17 EDT PM

With an onslaught of air travellers expected in the next 25 years, 10 airports in southern Ontario -- including London's -- have banded together to share the load.

The Southern Ontario Airport Network was formally launched Tuesday in Barrie.

With Toronto's Pearson International Airport -- the nation's busiest -- growing more congested, the president of the London International Airport told the gathering that smaller airports, from Windsor to Kingston, are ready to take some of the overflow.

"No offense to Toronto, but we don't like driving to Pearson to get on a flight. We would rather leave from London," Mike Seabrook said.

The London airport handles about 500,000 passengers a year, but another but another 1.4 million air travellers drive from the wider London market catch flights at Pearson each year and another 600,000 go to the Detroit Metro airport.

While London has a number of connecting flights to Toronto, Seabrook said the airport can do more than funnel travelers to Pearson.

"Our hope is that as Pearson becomes a mega-hub that airports like ours can support greater service and bring in more direct flights."

A study done for the network estimates the number of air travellers to southern Ontario will more than double to 110 million by 2043, and airports have to plan well in advance to avoid congestion that could stifle economic development, said Howard Eng, president of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.

While Pearson is the anchor of the system and gets the majority of the air traffic, Eng said it would not dominate the new network and will work co-operatively with smaller airports.

"This will not be the Pearson airport network -- it's the Southern Ontario Airport Network," he said.

Eng noted major cities such as New York, Paris and London, England, have developed networks of regional airports to help service their wider areas.

Eng said the southern Ontario airports can work out deals to specialize in areas such as flights schools, servicing and manufacturing.