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Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport pushes electrification, renewables to decarbonize

The airport's initiatives include the introduction of Canada's first all-electric ferry

An aerial view of Billy Bishop airport (Courtesy Ports Toronto)
An aerial view of Billy Bishop airport (courtesy Ports Toronto)

To create a greener and cleaner experience in 2023, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is continuing with its sustainability initiatives, including the electrification of its vehicle fleet with the introduction of Canada’s first all-electric ferry and sourcing of renewable energy.

In its 2022 Sustainability Report, the airport laid out its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize noise and air pollution in the area it occupies on Toronto's waterfront.

Billy Bishop Airport, which was Canada's ninth-busiest airport in 2019 before the COVID pandemic drastically impacted air travel, says it remains the only Canadian airport to power all its operations with renewable energy through a partnership with Bullfrog Power.

The airport has a target of a 35 per cent reduction in carbon below 2015 levels by 2030.

In an email exchange with SustainableBiz, Roelof-Jan Steenstra, the president and CEO of PortsToronto, the owner and operator of Billy Bishop Airport, said, “combatting climate change will require strengthened targets and ambitious goals in the years to come.”

“To this end, my team and I are working to better understand the sources of our emissions, to identify efficiencies within our operation, and to develop new objectives as part of a strategy that will bring us to where we need to be in order to meet this climate challenge.”

Minimizing Scope 1 and 2 emissions

In 2022, Billy Bishop Airport emitted 830 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2) in combined Scope 1 and 2 emissions and 972 tCO2 in Scope 3 emissions. It totaled 1,802 tCO2 all together.

By drawing upon renewable energy from Bullfrog Power, the airport reports zero Scope 2 emissions. The deal with Bullfrog was signed in 2010, which Steenstra highlighted as proof its Scope 2 emissions have been zero for over a decade.

“Just last year we renewed our agreement with Bullfrog Power to ensure that operations at Billy Bishop Airport will continue to be powered by 100 per cent renewable wind, solar and low-impact hydro electricity for years to come,” he added.

Its 2022 total emissions were below 2018 (1,990 tCO2) and 2019 (2,537 tCO2) levels, but higher than the amounts reached in 2020 (1,457 tCO2) and 2021 (1,353 tCO2) when air travel was most affected by pandemic travel restrictions.

Steenstra said travel demand “came roaring back” in mid-2022 with passenger numbers reaching 80 per cent of 2019 levels in the latter half of the year.

Despite increased demand, the airport still saw a “significant” reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and as of 2022, Billy Bishop Airport had reduced its emissions by 21 per cent from 2015 levels.

Electrifying its transportation and operations

To act on its Scope 1 emissions, Billy Bishop Airport highlighted its electrification efforts to date.

It converted the Marilyn Bell ferry from diesel to electricity in 2021. The airport says it is the first all-electric ferry in Canada, powered by batteries and renewable electricity.

Electrifying Marilyn Bell has saved 196,000 litres of diesel per year, according to the sustainability report, which reduces the airport’s Scope 1 emissions by 530 tCO2 per year.

The process cost approximately $3.8 million, Steenstra said, and benefitted the surrounding community by improving the air and noise quality.

Security vehicles were replaced with battery-powered electric models and electric landscaping tools were also chosen to replace emitting options.

Its partner Nieuport Aviation will be deploying six new electric buses this year to replace its diesel-powered shuttle bus fleet that transports passengers, community members and staff from Union Station to Billy Bishop Airport. Those buses will be charged at the airport, meaning they will be powered by clean, renewable electricity, Steenstra noted.

More than 500,000 people per year use the shuttle service, the report says.

Slashing its Scope 3 emissions

Though Billy Bishop Airport has taken strong action on its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, there is still the difficulty of reducing its indirect, supply-chain emissions.

The airport says its reported Scope 3 emissions are incomplete, only accounting for tenant emissions. It is working with its partners to gain better visibility as part of an ongoing process that is a future priority.

Though the airport is not an airline, some of its partners have acted to reduce their climate and environmental impact.

Porter Airlines added 29 of the De Havilland Dash 8-400 to its fleet, which is said to have the “lowest fuel burn per seat, lowest noise, and lowest engine emissions coming in 30 per cent lower than for similar-capacity aircraft,” Steenstra said.

To tackle the aviation industry’s climate impact, Billy Bishop Airport says it supports Canada’s Action Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aviation, namely: fleet renewals and upgrades, more efficient air operations, and improved capabilities in air traffic management.

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