Q&A: Porter CEO Robert Deluce on his plans to vanquish the anti–Island airport faction

Q&A: Porter CEO Robert Deluce on his plans to vanquish the anti–Island airport faction

QA: Robert Deluce, Porter CEO

There’s been relative peace on the island due in part to the ban on jets. Recently you announced you’d made a conditional purchase of 30 jets for Billy Bishop airport. Why jets and why now?
Our customers keep telling us that they want destinations a little farther afield: Vancouver, L.A., Florida, Las Vegas, the Caribbean. We looked into ways we could do that without having to stop to refuel, and were delighted to discover the Bombardier CS100 whisper jet.

Not everyone’s so delighted. The pro-business crowd thinks you’re a deity, but lefties on council and the Island residents think you’re the antichrist.
I agree that we’ve stimulated a good debate. If you turned your recorder off, I’d even describe it in a different way. Many of our detractors don’t realize that every single destination Porter has gone to has resulted in substantial reductions in fares. So they’re paying less, even if they’re using another airline.

Some of the opposition stems from the way you presented the plan—as a fait accompli just a few signatures away. Do you regret the way you laid it out?
I never intended to present it that way. I wanted to lay out our plan and to respectfully request consideration from the city, the federal government and the Toronto Port Authority, which are the three signatories to the jet ban.

There are fears that living on the waterfront will become as attractive as living on the tarmac at Pearson. You don’t buy that argument.
No. The CS100 whisper jet is four times quieter than any other jet operating in its class. It’s comparable in terms of noise to the existing Q400 turboprops that we operate now. You’d need sound measuring equipment to notice any difference. And keep in mind: we’re not looking to open the door to all types of jets. We’re simply looking to amend the agreement to allow this type of jet.

You live in Rosedale. How would you feel if jets, state-of-the-art or otherwise, were constantly soaring over your neighbourhood?
If living on the waterfront were a possibility for me, I would.

What’s stopping you?
My wife and I are settled in Rosedale. We have our neighbours and our family, and we’re comfortable there. It’s tough to uproot. But what I mean is that the people who have chosen to live on the waterfront were probably attracted by its proximity to the airport.

And you think that proximity outweighs the drawbacks?

You’ll also need to extend the runway by 168 metres at each end. Councillor Adam Vaughan says that amounts to “paving the lake.” What do you make of his concerns?
Inflammatory nonsense, designed for Adam’s purposes, and he knows it. We wouldn’t extend beyond the airport boundaries that exist today. Would the canoeist, kayaker or sailor who circumnavigates those buoys be impacted? Not at all.

How does the backlash over your latest announcements compare to the controversial days of 2003, when Porter was trying to launch?
Back then there’d be the odd cocktail party where somebody would take me to task. Luckily I have a thick skin and can withstand a little abuse. Today, no one’s conjuring up images of an evil empire. They know that it’ll never become a big airport, because it’s limited by geography.

Porter lost $44.5 million in its first four years of operation. Some think that if Porter were thriving financially, introducing jets wouldn’t be necessary.
Porter has been turning a profit for the last two years. In 2011 and 2012, we paid out profit-sharing to all of our team members.

Is there an IPO in the near future?
We don’t see any immediate need. That could change, but there are other ways to
handle expansion if need be—like jets.

You co-chaired a trade mission to Chicago with Rob Ford. How do you think he’s doing as mayor?
I’m impressed by how he’s managed to control costs and privatize garbage collection. There’s a lot of noise around him, but I don’t get too focused on it.

On to more pressing matters: do you have plans to change the complimentary beer policy?
No. That’s staying intact.