Canadian ATC Union Warns of Safety Risks from Tower Closures

Union says system could suffer a 20-percent shortfall of controllers by this summer.

Inside the tower at Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau International Airport.CATCA/Isabelle Pouliot

The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association (CATCA), the union representing all Canadian air traffic controllers in the country, recently raised serious public safety concerns that could result from the anticipated control tower closures and service reductions being suggested in an ongoing NAV Canada system review.

CATCA said in a news release, “Despite prior assurances from NAV Canada that no decisions would be made until the review was completed and approved by Transport Canada, employees at all seven towers under review have already received letters from NAV Canada stating its intention to close those towers. Last month, more than 100 air traffic controllers received layoff notices, which will severely impact service at four area control centers in Gander, Moncton, Montreal and Edmonton, and at air traffic control towers in St-Jean, Que., Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Regina, Fort McMurray, Prince George and Whitehorse.

“These letters confirm that the outcome of the review was pre-determined, and we’re calling on Transport Canada to halt the process as a result of NAV Canada’s failure to act reasonably and in good faith,” said CATCA’s president and CEO Doug Best. “The federal government has publicly committed to ensuring that the aviation sector can drive our economic recovery when the pandemic subsides, but with NAV Canada’s service cuts our air navigation system won’t have the capacity to operate safely when traffic returns to normal. We understand that NAV Canada has seen a significant decline in revenue due to the pandemic and that it needs to find efficiencies, but we can’t allow public safety to be compromised. NAV Canada’s cuts will only add pressure on the essential workers who keep our skies safe.”

Best added that “before the pandemic struck, Canada faced a 13 per cent shortfall of air traffic controllers, NAV Canada’s annual overtime bill was $100 million, and Transport Canada ordered NAV Canada to overhaul its Fatigue Management System as a result of safety concerns. If NAV Canada proceeds with these planned service level cuts, CATCA estimates that the shortage of air traffic controllers will grow to 20 per cent by June 2021, while nearly all trainees in the system will have been terminated.”

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