Eleventh-hour deal keeps Ornge flying out of Billy Bishop Airport

News from The Star – link to story

By Kevin Donovan, Chief Investigative Reporter | Sat., May 30, 2020

Ornge will continue to fly out of the Billy Bishop island airport after agreeing to a new rent deal.  ORNGE

A last-minute reprieve with a favourable rent deal will keep the air ambulance service Ornge flying out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport during the pandemic, officials say.

Ornge’s annual rent at the downtown airport has been reset by landlord Ports Toronto to roughly $200,000 a year. It was a whopping $5 million for the three-month period of March, April and May because Ornge had to cover all airport costs after Porter Airlines and Air Canada ceased flying from the island.

The provincial health ministry, which funds Ornge ($204 million annually), paid that bill to keep the airport open. Now, at least for the time being, the annual rent is back to normal.

“It is vital that Ornge maintains operations (at Billy Bishop) as it is a key patient transport hub providing quick access to trauma hospitals,” said Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for provincial health minister Christine Elliott.

Ports Toronto and the ministry are still discussing terms going forward. Both parties are hoping normal airport operations will resume later this summer.

“We are exceedingly proud to have Ornge based at Billy Bishop Airport and are committed to do whatever we can, within our power, to keep Ornge at Billy Bishop Airport and return the airport itself to strength as soon as is possible and appropriate,” said Deborah Wilson, a Ports Toronto spokesperson.

Ornge operates two full-time helicopter crews out of Billy Bishop, and also flies fixed-wing aircraft from the island airport.

Several weeks ago, the Star revealed an unusual financial arrangement had arisen when Porter and Air Canada pulled out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in March due to the global pandemic. Only one tenant — the provincially funded Ornge — was left to keep the lights on. For three months, that amounted to close to $5 million.