It will soon be a little easier to fly to the U.S. from Billy Bishop Airport near downtown Toronto. And that could be a boon to Porter Airlines and startup Connect Airways.
The Canadian government and U.S. Customs and Border Protection plan to open a new preclearance facility at Billy Bishop in 2025, they said Friday. The facilities, of which there are 15 at airports around the world, allow travelers to clear U.S. customs at their gateway — in this case Toronto — and arrive as domestic fliers at their destination.
Preclearance will “provide access to more U.S. markets which will boost connectivity and bilateral trade and tourism between Toronto and the eastern U.S.,” said RJ Steenstra, the CEO of PortsToronto which operates Billy Bishop.
Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport is the fifth busiest Canadian gateway to the U.S. In 2019, nearly 454,000 travelers flew from the airport to destinations south of the border, U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data via Cirium Diio show. Only Toronto Pearson, Vancouver, Montreal Trudeau, and Calgary handled more U.S. fliers. And four Canadian airports with fewer U.S. fliers already have preclearance facilities: Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa, and Winnipeg.
Porter, which is based at Billy Bishop, will be the biggest beneficiary of the new preclearance facility. The airline carries all of the airport’s U.S. fliers on its flights to Boston, Chicago Midway, Newark, and Washington Dulles, according to Diio schedules. Porter could, if it secured the necessary slots, with preclearance move its New York and Washington flights to LaGuardia and Reagan National airports, respectively, which are more popular with business travelers. Competitor Air Canada serves both New York and D.C.-area airports from Toronto Pearson.
Porter would not, however, be able to add U.S. flights with its new Embraer E195-E2 jets at Billy Bishop. The airport is restricted to just turboprop aircraft under rules that the airline previously sought — and failed — to change. It was hoping to fly its next-generation jet planes from Bishop.
A spokesperson for Porter was not available for comment.
Startup Connect Airways, which is still awaiting U.S. Federal Aviation Administration sign-off to begin flights, could also benefit. The U.S.-based airline plans to initially fly between Billy Bishop and both Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia where it would connect with American Airlines. Preclearance would allow its flights to arrive at domestic gates at both airports, thus easing onward connections for travelers.
Connect hopes to receive FAA certification and begin flights by October 5, its parent company, Waltzing Matilda Aviation, said in a letter to the DOT on June 16.
Until Connect begins flying, Porter is the only airline serving Billy Bishop with flights to the U.S. And, given the rules barring jets, no major U.S. carrier like American or Delta Air Lines could serve the airport given their all-jet regional fleets. Air Canada serves Billy Bishop from Montreal and Ottawa.