Spotting Guide: An Afternoon at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport

If you are traveling to Toronto by air, you are most likely to arrive at Toronto Pearson International Airport located west of the city.

However, if you are arriving from a limited selection of Canadian and US airports, you might arrive at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport that can be found right in Toronto’s city center, not far from the iconic CN Tower.

During my trip to Canada in May, I didn’t have a chance to do any plane spotting at Pearson airport. But, I spent an hour or two capturing the limited traffic at Billy Bishop airport while sightseeing in the city.

Porter Airlines Dash 8 at Toronto City Airport
A Porter Airlines Dash 8 approaching Billy Bishop airport’s runway 26.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport Overview

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is located on one of the Toronto Islands located just off the shore of Lake Ontario. While in the past it could only be accessed by a ferry which runs to this day (free for passengers, paid for vehicles), in 2015, a tunnel opened connecting the mainland with the island.

While plenty of helicopter and other general aviation movements can be seen at the airport, it is only served by two airlines, Porter Airlines and Air Canada Express – both using Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft.

Air Canada Express connects the airport with its hub at Montreal Trudeau airport several times a day.

Air Canada Express Dash 8 Q400 at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport
An Air Canada Express Dash 8 in old colors landing at Billy Bishop airport.

Porter Airlines is based at the airport and so has a much more significant presence there. It operates more than sixty flights a day to destinations around Canada (Montreal, St. John’s, Ottawa, Quebec, etc.) and the United States (Newark, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, etc.).

Even though there was a plan to expand the airport and allow Porter Airlines to operate jets (Bombardier CS100s, now Airbus A220-100s) out of the airport, that plan seems to have been halted.

And so, for the foreseeable future, the Q400s will be the only airliners to be seen flying in and out of the airport on a regular basis.

Spotting at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport

In spite of the traffic that can be seen at Billy Bishop airport being quite limited, the fact that I never photographed Porter Airlines or Air Canada Express Dash 8s before combined with the fact that it is so close to the city’s major attractions made me spend a couple of hours around the airport’s perimeter.

Or, better to say, across the water that separates Toronto’s downtown from the island the airport is located on.

The airport is equipped with three runways – 06/24, 08/26, and 15/33 – and during my visit, runway 26 was in use.

With that runway in use, it should be possible to get photos of approaching aircraft in front of Toronto’s skyline from Ned Hanlan’s Memorial or the ferry connecting it to the mainland.

Unfortunately, due to cloudy skies in the morning during my stay, I decided to visit the airport in the afternoon instead. The spot I used was a pier located within a walking distance of Union Station which offered unrestricted views of both landing aircraft and aircraft taxiing for take-off.

Porter Airlines Dash 8 Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport
A Porter Airlines Dash 8 taxiing for take off from runway 26.

While there was no CN Tower in the background like it would have been from the morning location, the photos still offered interesting background in form of Toronto Islands.

The focal length required for a “full frame” photo of a Dash 8 Q400 from this location is around 300 mm (on a crop sensor), but much less than that is sufficient for photos showing the scenery together with the aircraft such as the one below.

Porter Airlines at Billy Bishop Airport
A Porter Airlines Dash 8 landing with Lake Ontario in the foreground and Toronto Islands in the background.

Summary

If you are looking to catch as many aircraft as possible, or larger jets, than Billy Bishop airport is not the right place to go. However, if you are looking to add a new airport to the list of airports that you photographed at or want to get some Porter Airlines photos for your collection then the airport is certainly worth a visit.

Especially so if you are planning to be in downtown Toronto anyways. Then it really is a no brainer to stop by the pier and photograph a movement or two.

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