Executive Summary
Needs Assessment Study - Pickering Lands


In 1972, the Government of Canada acquired 18,600 acres of land (7,530 hectares) 56 kilometres northeast of downtown Toronto to develop a new airport.  The plan was put on hold in favour of expanding existing airports, but the Government of Canada continues to retain the Pickering Lands for a potential, future airport and to protect all future aviation options.  In the meantime, Transport Canada (TC) is responsible for the day-to-day management and long-range planning of the federally‑owned Pickering Lands. 

Over the years, TC and other organizations have carried out numerous studies examining the future aviation requirements for Southern Ontario. The Pickering Lands Needs Assessment Study (2010) is the most recent study on this subject. It was launched in May 2007 to broaden and update previous work on the role and capacity of airports in Southern Ontario in meeting future needs of passengers, businesses and general aviation.

The Pickering Lands Needs Assessment Study (2010) examined the capacities and traffic volumes in the system of airports in Southern Ontario (including the Greater Golden Horseshoe) to determine whether they could reasonably accommodate future traffic volumes. This included examining future commercial passenger, cargo and general aviation traffic by comparing forecasted demand for these services with the forecasted supply of airport infrastructure within the system of airports.

TC received the final report in March 2010 and the findings formed the basis for the Department’s comprehensive Due Diligence Review, which checked and verified assumptions, methodology and findings to ensure completeness and adequacy.  With the due diligence completed and the contract on the Needs Assessment closed, the Needs Assessment Study is now being released.


The Pickering Lands Needs Assessment Study (2010) assessed whether the system of airports in Southern Ontario could meet year 2032 demand for services under a wide range of possible scenarios, with or without a possible airport in Pickering. 

Core assumptions include that Toronto Pearson International Airport would be built out to its maximum capacity as its activity grows (including building of a sixth runway and further terminal expansion) and that Hamilton airport would develop to accommodate some of the expected traffic growth in the region.  The development of Waterloo airport was included in some of the scenarios considered and affected potential timing for the requirement of additional airport capacity. 

Study Findings:

In the Needs Assessment Study:

  • Commercial passenger traffic is identified as the key constraint that would drive development of new airport capacity in the region. 
  • The ‘most likely’ airport capacity assumptions reflect capacities for Toronto Pearson, Hamilton and Waterloo airports of 54, 7 and 4.6 million passengers annually respectively.
  • The ‘enhanced’ airport capacity assumptions would remove Corporate Jets/General Aviation traffic from Toronto Pearson airport, raising its passenger capacity to 60 million passengers per annum, and assumed increased efficiencies in terminal gate throughputs at Hamilton and Waterloo airports, potentially raising their passenger capacities to 10.5 and 6.9 million passengers annually respectively. 

The table below describes scenarios considered under the Needs Assessment Study.  A scenario under which airports such as Hamilton and Waterloo would not develop capacity is considered to be unlikely. Using Transport Canada’s baseline traffic forecasts and the “most likely” airport capacity estimates, including development of Hamilton and Waterloo airports, the Study concludes that the airport system would meet projected demand only until 2027 without an additional airport becoming operational. Using “enhanced” airport capacities with the baseline forecast or under more conservative (“pessimistic”) forecasts for traffic growth, the conclusion remains that additional airport capacity will be required in the future, but simply extends the time period as to when that additional capacity would be needed.

Reliever Airports

Traffic Forecast

Airport Capacity Assumptions

When will an additional operational airport be required?

No relievers developed


Most likely capacities


Hamilton and possibly Waterloo


Most likely capacities


Hamilton and possibly Waterloo


Enhanced capacities


Hamilton and possibly Waterloo


Most likely capacities


Hamilton and possibly Waterloo


Enhanced capacities


The Pickering Lands Needs Assessment Study (2010) focused on three fundamental questions:

Will an additional airport be required?

The Study’s assessment of a number of different scenarios concluded that new airport capacity would be required under all the scenarios in the future, with timing differences simply guiding when that additional capacity may be required.

If an additional airport is required, when is it likely to be needed?

The Study concluded that with the “most likely” development of Hamilton and Waterloo as potential reliever airports that would take up some of the traffic growth in the region, the earliest that a new airport would be needed would be 2027.   That timeline could be delayed by a number of circumstances including “enhanced” development at Hamilton and Waterloo airports to optimise operational efficiencies, slower than forecasted traffic growth (“pessimistic forecast”) and efficiencies related to redistribution of general aviation and corporate jet traffic.   As a result, the timelines for requiring an additional airport within the Greater Golden Horseshoe range from 2027-2037 depending on the assumptions as noted above.

Should the Pickering lands be retained for aviation purposes?

Even though an additional airport will not be needed within the Greater Golden Horseshoe before 2027 at the earliest, the study concludes that the Pickering Lands should be kept and protected for future aviation needs.  This is based on a number of factors such as: the site size; proximity to a large potential market; accessibility to major highways (Highways 401 & 407); and a relatively low population in the immediate vicinity of the lands.

The study also notes that it is inconceivable that a large parcel of land comparable in size to the Pickering Lands could be amassed again in the future.  Furthermore even if an alternate site could be identified, the financial and social costs associated with such an endeavour would likely render it implausible. 


In conclusion, the Pickering Lands Needs Assessment Study (2010) finds that an additional airport will be needed within the Greater Golden Horseshoe to accommodate traffic growth, but it is not expected to be required before 2027 and possibly not before 2037.  It also concludes that the Pickering Lands site offers a unique opportunity to meet the long-term aviation needs of the Greater Golden Horseshoe.  The Study notes that it is prudent planning to retain and protect the site, thereby preserving the option of building an airport, if and when required.

To request the Needs Assessment Study, please contact 1-888-526-5673

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