Critics hail about face after air traffic control company gets an earful over the future of 26 facilities across the country
Regina International Airport chief executive officer could barely contain his glee. He found out a few hours before NAV Canada was reversing course and keeping his airport’s control tower open.
“To me, what NAV Canada did today really shows leadership,” he said. “A lot of organizations when they go a certain direction, it’s very difficult for them to reconsider a position. And they did.”
NAV Canada is a private, not-for-profit company that runs the country’s air traffic control system. It earns revenue from landings, takeoffs, and flights over Canada. When the pandemic decimated air travel, revenues cratered. NAV Canada lost $138 million just in the first three months of this fiscal year. The losses prompted the agency to review its operations at smaller airports across the country. Seven air traffic control towers – Regina, Ft. McMurray, Whitehorse, Windsor, Prince George, Sault Ste. Marie, and Saint-Jean, Quebec – were threatened with closure.
The company’s about-face Thursday came after a concerted effort by airport managers and political leaders. They worried tower closures would lead to a further deterioration of air service and compromise safety.
“Stakeholder engagement is at the heart of NAV Canada’s aeronautical study process,” said Ray Bohn, NAV Canada’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “The valuable input we have received indicates that a balanced approach is warranted as the industry navigates the ongoing pandemic.”
NAV Canada committed Thursday to keep all towers and Flight Service Stations open across the country. It will, however, review their hours of operations and further consider remote operations, except in Northern Canada.
Critics welcome NAV Canada’s reversal
NAV Canada said it consulted with airlines, airports, industry associations, local officials and internal stakeholders before coming to this week’s decision. The reviews were part of a broader cost-cutting effort that saw NAV Canada cut jobs and raise fees an average of 30%.
Critics welcomed the reversal.
“We learned through the course of this campaign that Regina might well have faced reduced flights if the tower had been closed,” said Regina Conservative MP Michael Kram in a statement. He helped lead a national political effort against the changes. “With the tower staying open, once the economy begins to re-open post-COVID, we can look forward to hosting events, trade shows, and business travel at the same level, and hopefully more, than we did before the pandemic. This is a tremendous ray of hope for our whole city.”
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra also welcomed the news.
“I am pleased to see that NAV CANADA has committed to no closures at air traffic control towers or flight service stations, as well as at northern and remote locations, across the country,” he said in a statement. “Maintaining appropriate service in our local communities will allow NAV CANADA to continue to provide air navigation services required to support industry today and throughout the recovery.”
“I definitely think they heard us,” said Bogusz. “And this goes for all the communities who had air traffic control towers under review. I strongly feel that if it wasn’t for all these advocacy efforts – it’s really encouraging that NAV Canada reconsider them – we wouldn’t have this result.”
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