After the pandemic has brought the once-bustling runways to a standstill, the owner of Billy Bishop Airport is looking for a private sector investor to operate the downtown island airport.

On Tuesday, PortsToronto, owner and operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, issued a request for interest (RFI), a preliminary step toward potentially identifying a financial investor to run the airport under lease.

PortsToronto says the move is an effort to reduce the airport's overall debt position, restore and enhance liquidity, enable ongoing and future infrastructure investment, and ensure the airport's long-term viability.

This comes as the travel industry continues to struggle from the impact of COVID, with the downtown airport's major operator Porter Airlines ceasing operations due to the pandemic until May 19.

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"The last year has had a profound impact on many businesses and has necessitated innovative approaches to overcome the challenges at present and in future," said Geoffrey Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, PortsToronto.

"We believe that undertaking a process now that may provide options for PortsToronto to secure a financial investor will enable the airport to come out of the COVID-19 crisis stronger."

PortsToronto said the financial investor must maintain the organization's commitment to a managed-growth approach to make Billy Bishop Airport among the cleanest, greenest, and quietest airports in the world.

"It is incumbent upon PortsToronto – as owner and operator of Billy Bishop Airport – to explore options to manage risk and enhance liquidity in a manner that allows PortsToronto to fulfil its mandate, support Toronto's economy, and ensure that the airport continues to serve as an asset," said Robert Poirier, Chair, PortsToronto.

"This RFI will inform a strategic evaluation of opportunities regarding the airport by effectively extending the existing and successful P3 structure we already have in place with several key concessions at the airport," continued Poirier.

Though, PortsToronto would remain the signatory to the Tripartite Agreement with the City of Toronto and the federal government, and as such, will retain oversight of the airport and maintain control over such areas as slots, safety, and environmental sustainability.

If PortsToronto decides to pursue this concept further, the process will progress to a Request for Proposal (RFP) later this year in consultation with the City of Toronto and the federal government including Transport Canada.