Thank you, Madam Chair.
This is not a transport committee issue, but it's a transport issue. I think that many of you were invited last night to the screening of First Man. There weren't many of us there, but a few of us went. The minister spoke and did a fine job of it, and so did our soon-to-be astronaut, David Saint-Jacques. We watched our current astronaut, Ryan Gosling, play Neil Armstrong in First Man. There we were, about 45 minutes into the movie, and they just blasted off to the moon. It was noisy and there were all kinds of crazy sounds, including this beep...beep...beep. All of a sudden, the screen went off, lights came on, and it was a fire alarm.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Ron Liepert: There were 500 people, the entire movie theatre audience, all standing out in the cold. Some of us didn't bother hanging around to see whether he made it to the moon or not. I don't know if he made it to the moon, but I'll tell you what I did get, Madam Chair: a pair of free socks.
Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee, thank you for having me appear before you today. I'm very pleased that this committee has chosen to study this important topic, which applies to Canadians across the country living in close proximity to airports.
Airport noise is the first thing people notice, complain about or discuss on the subject of nearby airports. I'm a resident of Markland Wood, the residential area closest to Pearson international airport, which is currently managed by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the GTAA.
I must also note that all surrounding neighbourhoods are affected by GTAA noise and should not be excluded from this study; however, my experience is as a resident of an affected neighbourhood. I can speak only from this experience and will concentrate my remarks on the effects of Pearson airport and the management of the GTAA.
The GTAA has announced their intention to double air traffic by 2040. This means that there will be a proportionate increase in aircraft noise overall. Pearson and many large airports are landlocked and cannot expand to gain more space. Fitting more takeoffs and landings into an existing infrastructure is the only way to expand, thus exacerbating the noise issue, which is already critical.
I believe that if parliamentary committees such as this one were to concentrate only on noise as the fundamental issue, you would be doing Canadians who live around these airports a great disservice. Noise is only one of the issues residents have to contend with. Associated with it are the health effects that such repetitive high levels of noise have on human beings living in these areas, as well as the impact of interrupted sleep due to aircraft noise.
To date, there have been no studies done by Health Canada or independent consultants on the current noise level effects on humans within the last 10 years or to consider the higher noise levels in the future, as proposed by the GTAA and other airports. Talking about noise does not matter if you do not consider current and future effects on the population living near these airports.
One important point to mention is night flights, a topic of great concern for all residents near an airport, especially Pearson. Night flight bans should be instituted at major airports in Canada. A number of major airports worldwide have night flight bans, including Heathrow Airport, the third-largest airport by worldwide rankings, and Frankfurt Airport, the ninth-largest one. Both have night flight bans, meaning no flights past 11 p.m. This should be the norm, not the exception.
Taking the theme of noise and effects on human health further, there is the environmental effect of increased air traffic. There also should be coordinating studies on the effects of exhaust fuel pollution and the environmental effects of the increased traffic. We currently have no pertinent data on environmental effects of added aircraft traffic. Environment Canada, in coordination with Health Canada, should set up monitoring stations around major airports such as Pearson to gather data on both noise and pollution. This is critical to making future decisions on important subjects such as increased aircraft traffic and its effects.
Let's now look into the future. Why does the GTAA want increased air traffic? The answer is income. As stated by Hillary Marshall of the GTAA, the organization is approximately $5 billion in debt. We have a not-for-profit corporation that can only survive if it gets more revenue, which has translated into increased air traffic. With Toronto's population growth, current size and projections, we are already the fourth-largest metropolitan area in North America, recently overtaking Chicago.
Instead of trying to fit more air traffic into the same space at Pearson, why not add another airport? All of the top five cities in North America have at least two major airports, except for Toronto. The GTAA would not support this idea. They need to recoup their massive $5-billion debt. We have alternatives such as Pickering, with land which the federal government already owns, or an existing airport in Hamilton, which could augment and add capacity to the Toronto area for airport traffic for years to come.
In conclusion, I would like to state the facts.
The federal government has given up control and management of many large airports in Canada to private corporations. This is not a partisan issue; this problem has been present through many governments, both Liberal and Conservative. I believe that airport noise, health effects and environmental issues should be monitored and managed by the government, not corporations such as the GTAA, which have only one goal: increasing income.
I suggest that in this committee report, recommendations be made to legislate more control over entities such as the GTAA so that government has the ability to control noise, health effects and pollution and how they affect the citizens you have been elected to serve.
My name is Richard Hermann Boehnke, and I'm from Etobicoke. I thank the standing committee for inviting me to share my view on aircraft noise.
My neighbours and I live south of the Lester B. Pearson International Airport, also known as Toronto Pearson or as “the little postage stamp” to the unkind. Well into my third decade of dealing with the airport administration—the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, the GTAA—with respect to its major waste product, aircraft noise, I have concluded that there are two mandatory actions that must be undertaken to improve the aircraft noise situation for Toronto residents.
In this 21st century, we must first have Health Canada establish and enforce human health-based standards for aircraft noise. Second, once these human health standards are established, they must be used to create a fixed and permanent allotment of night flights to replace the variable and ever-increasing formula used at present—a creation with a high-water mark calculation guaranteed never to reduce by design.
This is ironic, given that there is increased focus on sleep, and virtually everybody knows that sleep deprivation leads to increased blood pressure, anxiety, mood changes, difficulty concentrating, etc. Achieving this noise-health focus would clearly establish science-based responses to community noise complaints, and it would permit predictable aircraft movement patterns at night, again based on health science. Sound sleep is a basic human need that is equal to good food, potable water and safe housing.
Further, I'm certain that such health-based standards already exist in the European Union, among other sources, thereby sparing Health Canada much time and money in carrying out complex studies. Health Canada must monitor and must enforce these standards in order to build public confidence that the government is protecting them from a known noise hazard.
For the first time, this would also provide meaningful guidance to the airport's expansion plans, taking into account—and making just as important—human health considerations, as well as the economic sketches of the Toronto Pearson business planners as they aim at their 90-million-passenger target. After all, if we think it's noisy with 45 million passengers, imagine the noise by-product from 90 million people flying in and out annually.
Finally, if the aforementioned is not alarming enough to the standing committee, we could take a glance at the topic of safety. I observed that Transport Canada wishes to decrease its involvement in direct oversight of pilots with 45 million more passengers arriving in Toronto and that the SMS is not getting full support from its participants. We also hear about decades of delayed action on seatbelts for school buses and a similar lack of leadership on truck driver training across Canada. Then we hear about the airport's growth plans, and there are no impact studies. This really causes worry on the street.
Others have spoken to you about the funding challenges for Transport Canada, the constant cutbacks, the self-regulation plans being considered in place of direct oversight in the cockpit, and the general concern with regard to a perceived lack of public access in reviewing Transport Canada's enforcement responsibilities. Transport Canada has a lot of work that it is entrusted with. It likely needs the standing committee's help.
Thank you for the forum to share my words and my suggestions. Please help us before the cement sets on the expansion. Get us the health standards for noise.
My interest in airport noise comes from two sources. First of all, I live near the airport, and second, my career was in airports and the last 30 years were at Pearson, largely in the planning area. My topic today is the increasing night flights and the by-products of annoyance, sleep deprivation and decreased quality of life.
In 1996 there were about 9,600 flights at night between 12:30 and 6:30 in the morning. In 1997, the first full year after the airport was transferred to the GTAA from Transport Canada, the budget was 10,300. Currently, through a strange formula in which the budget for night flights increases in proportion to passenger growth, Transport Canada allows more than 19,000 flights during the night.
Compare this to other airports. Frankfurt imposes a complete ban. Heathrow allows 5,800, but that is tied to a noise quota budget that is decreasing. Montreal bans large aircraft over 45,000 kilograms, which reduces the overall noise dosage.
Although the aviation industry likes to point out that there is a budget that restricts the number of night flights, a restriction that increases annually is merely a temporary limitation. In the long term, it is a restriction in name only.
With the hope of attracting more business, the GTAA determined that the natural growth in the budget would not be sufficient to meet the demand and petitioned Transport Canada to permit three bump-ups of 10%. The approval was granted in 2013. Although the increase has not been used, it remains on the books.
I would to illustrate the nature and the severity of night noise by a graph, which is on the wall. In the bottom right corner, you see an airplane flying over a square, which is the noise monitoring station at a place in Garnetwood Park. Garnetwood Park is located just north of Markham, where these two gentlemen come from, and south of another residential area in Mississauga, which the aircraft will pass over en route to the airport. The noise level is 80 decibels, which the equivalent of an alarm clock.
Below that, you'll see another plane coming in, which will arrive at the noise monitoring station about two minutes later, and beyond that another and another and another.
In the middle, there is a panel that shows some information on the aircraft. It shows the elevation, which is 1,480 feet. This is somewhat misleading because that is ASL, above sea level. It is actually less than 1,000 feet above the ground. You'll note the origin of that flight, which is Puerto Vallarta, and the time, 3:18 a.m.
The current night flight budget is unreasonable. There must be an absolute upper limit on the number of flights and the maximum allowable noise. Night flights should be treated as a scarce and decreasing resource to be used judiciously, not one that is used with no upper limit. It is unacceptable for the industry to enjoy all the increasing economic benefits while the community bears all the increasing social and environmental costs.
Some night flights are necessary for the well-being of the region, but there must be a balance between the wants of the industry and the needs of the community. I doubt that the economy would be in peril if flights from sunspot destinations were not permitted to land in the middle of the night.
I have some suggestions for improvement. First, eliminate the provision for the annual increase in the night flight budget and the provision for the three bump-ups.
Second, over a five-year phase-in period, reduce the night flight budget back to the 9,600 that was in place when Transport Canada last operated the airport. Along with that, introduce measures to manage the total annual noise dosage and the maximum allowable levels for individual flights.
Third, introduce a substantial surcharge on night flights so that the true social and environmental costs of night flights are reflected in the total costs. This should apply to all airlines, including those that currently pay a fixed annual fee to operate at Pearson.
Undoubtedly the industry will vigorously protest any changes from the current scheme, as it will then have to make decisions on which flights to operate and which flights to drop.
However, changes are necessary and new regulations are needed so that the interests of the communities in the vicinity of the airport no longer remain secondary to the interests of the industry at Pearson and at all other airports.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm going to share my time with my colleague, Ms. Block.
I'm going to ask one basic question and have everyone comment on it.
I represent a Calgary riding that isn't anywhere near the airport. However, because of the second runway they've put in, there's a change in flight paths, so now I have constituents who are having air traffic they've never had before. I can't comment on Toronto, so I'm not specific to Toronto, but I want each one of you to know that I am encountering as a member of Parliament some of the same concerns that I'm hearing, but probably not to the same degree.
One of the things I struggle with is the fact that we're a bit of a victim of our own success. One of the reasons they put a second major airstrip in Calgary was because of the demand. I said to some other witnesses the other day that we now have three flights a day from Calgary to Palm Springs, and they're putting two more on because they're full, so the demand is there. Our consumer shopping model has changed significantly, from going to the local mall to bringing it in overnight from Amazon.
One of the things I'd like a general comment on is this: If we look at some of the things that all of you are proposing, how would that impact the business community and how would that impact consumers' ability to get what they want expeditiously, which is also what they want?
If you don't mind, I can be the first to answer that.
It's very simple, sir. Hamilton airport can offload some of the traffic that the GTAA is currently experiencing. Hamilton has been, and still is, a cargo hub for certain carriers, such as UPS, etc. The GTAA has been outbidding Hamilton airport for their business, and they've been winning business as a result. I'll get back to this $5-billion debt. They need to recoup that $5 billion debt, and the only way they can do it is by accessing more business.
To answer your question, if we augmented Hamilton, for example, in the Toronto area—it's a cargo hub—we could increase that cargo hub to allow for more flights, because the cargo is typically night-flight activity, as well as the charters. Hamilton started off as a charter focal point, and it still is to a certain extent. The GTAA bids for that business, however, and they outbid other airports for it. That's the crux of the problem.
I would like to comment on that.
I believe you used the word “facade”, and I don't think that is inappropriate. These committees are not committees that will take action, and there are no concrete results.
By way of example, the GTAA has just come out with its noise management action plan, and with respect to helping our neighbours sleep at night, what are they going to do? They're going to publish a report outlining the economic necessity for night flights. They are also going to look at increasing landing fees specifically for night flight slots while they develop quieter fleet incentive programs. They're going to take money from the airlines for flying in at night, it seems to me, and give it back to them for retrofitting the aircraft, which seems bizarre. They also talk about immediately exploring changes to night flight restrictions.
It's a debating society. It's meant to placate the public, but I don't think the committee as it is now structured is an effective means of managing noise. That is the prerogative of the government, Transport Canada and the industry, and they do not have a mindset to manage noise.
I have very little time, so I'll try to be pretty quick here.
We know that the GTA, the greater Toronto area, is an economic engine for the country. It's continuing to grow very rapidly, and the GTAA in tandem is looking to expand operations and increase its bottom line profitability at a cost to local neighbourhoods. This all gets back to accountability.
It is a regional monopoly, and it appears there is no accountability. It is not interested, as was mentioned, in sharing with Hamilton. It's looking at where it can increase its profitability. One of the things that was mentioned was having it as a nighttime hub for flights out of the Middle East, flights out of other destinations into North America. I assume Hamilton would be able to act as that sort of hub. The passengers aren't people coming to Toronto. They're just transferring on to other planes to go on to Houston, for instance. I assume Hamilton could also handle not just cargo but those kinds of nighttime hub flights, but that would break Pearson's regional monopoly.
What I'd like to get to is the accountability. It appears that the GTAA doesn't have accountability, the federal government is not providing the oversight, and Nav Canada switches around flights in ways that impact neighbourhoods, even though it also is an arm's-length non-profit corporation. What needs to be done to bring accountability to this regional monopoly that is increasing its profits at the cost to the quality of life of local neighbourhoods?
Okay. I'll move pretty quickly.
I represent a riding called Mississauga—Streetsville, which on your map is Highway 40 at Meadowvale and 45 and 48 near Streetsville, so this is definitely a concern to my residents.
We have Hamilton, which is underutilized; Pickering is a bit farther outside the GTA, but we have a lot of land just north of the 407 and the escarpment, and Metrolinx has preliminary plans to get more rail out that way.
Is there a conversation that should be had about whether an airport can go up past the escarpment, up north there?
I'll start with you, Peter.
We have a very tight meeting today, because we have to be in the House by 10 o'clock.
The witnesses can just stay for a moment.
Rather than go in camera, I'm going to ask the committee about a suggestion we have of an additional meeting on the study we're doing and that we invite Transport Canada, Air Canada and WestJet. We've had some interest from them, and they are part of this issue as well.
Do we have everybody's approval to schedule one more meeting with some of the airlines and Transport Canada?
You have a budget in front of you that needs to be adopted for this study. Everybody is in agreement with that.
As just a reminder, the preliminary recommendations on our interim trade corridors report should be in by November 1, if possible.
We are having the first nations come later on in November, but our analysts say they can move forward on that report and add to it following that other meeting.
Wellington is blocked off, but our buses are there.
The committee is adjourned.