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Porter says terminal sale will help it with expansion plans to more destinations

TORONTO – The head of Porter Aviation Holdings Inc. says the sale of Porter’s passenger terminal at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport frees the airline to focus on expanding to more destinations in North America and the Caribbean.

“(The sale) really does position Porter for the future,” said president and chief executive Robert Deluce in an interview Tuesday.

“When you’re sitting with a strong balance sheet, it allows you take on new destinations, it allows you take on potentially a new type of aircraft and it definitely facilitates a continuation of the growth and development of our route network. All of those things are real pluses.”

Deluce said the airline is still exploring the possibility of flying to a variety of new destinations in Western Canada, Florida, California and the Caribbean.

And although the airline now has the cash to add these destinations, the plans depend on it receiving approval to fly jets from Toronto’s waterfront airport, a hot button issue in the city. Among other things, allowing jets to use the airport would require extending the runway at both ends by filling in parts of Lake Ontario.

Deluce said the airline is also considering using the money to operate more flights to its current destinations and upgrade its airport lounge.

The sale, finalized Tuesday, will see Nieuport Aviation Infrastructure Partners GP, a consortium of infrastructure investors, take over the operations at the terminal over the next few months. Nieuport Aviation includes InstarAGF Asset Management Inc., Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Ltd., Partners Group and institutional investors advised by J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Deluce said Porter didn’t have a hard deadline on when it wanted the passenger terminal sold, although it had been looking for a buyer since August.

He refused to comment on media reports that the terminal was sold for between US$400 million and US$750 million, calling the figures “speculation.”

With Nieuport taking over operations, he said passengers can also expect to see improvements at the terminal, including more retail and concession options.

Billy Bishop is the main base for Porter Airlines, which started flying in October 2006 and now serves 20 destinations in Canada and the United States. The airport is a popular choice for business travellers because of its easy access to downtown Toronto.

Through its City Centre Terminal Corp. subsidiary, Porter has spent millions upgrading and expanding the terminal that handled more than two million passengers last year.

In 2013, the airline asked the City of Toronto, Transport Canada and the Toronto Port Authority to amend a tripartite agreement that prevents jets from using the island airport except under special circumstances.

Last spring, Toronto city council voted to move ahead with negotiations on the expansion but requested further study on the environmental impacts as well as how it would affect traffic, among other issues. A decision is not expected until later this year.

Porter has already placed a conditional order with Bombardier for 12 CS100 aircraft, worth about US$2.08 billion.

Opponents to the plan say they are concerned about the impacts the jets might have on marine life and residential noise levels.

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