Nav Canada to lay off another 180 workers including at historic Gander Area Control Centre

Nav Canada plans to lay off 180 people across the country, employees were told on Wednesday, as the pandemic and travel restrictions continue to cripple the airline industry.

This latest round of cuts includes air traffic controllers who co-ordinate the movement of planes in between airports to make sure they are properly separated in the air.

One of the area control centres affected is one of the main employers in Gander, N.L., where generations of families worked together and played a role in history.

Documentaries have been made about how the town’s air traffic controllers helped safely land more than 200 diverted aircraft safely on 9/11. There’s even a musical, Come From Away, about how more than 6,000 stranded passengers were welcomed into the small Newfoundland town.

Some of the air traffic controllers there handle aircraft over the northwestern portion of the Atlantic Ocean — the first radar surveillance site that planes hit coming from Europe. It’s also where aircraft from the Eastern Seaboard converge with traffic from central Canada and the U.S. Midwest.

Along with those in Gander, the union representing the air traffic controllers told its members layoff notices were also served to 49 controllers in Moncton, Montreal and Edmonton. Nav Canada also sent notices on Monday to employees at the St. Jean Tower in Quebec and Vancouver’s area control centre.

Nav Canada told staff that 180 jobs are expected to be cut in an effort to save money while air traffic remains dramatically low due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.(Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Safety concerns

The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association told its members it has safety concerns.

“Every one of us understands that safety is being impacted, and, as stakeholders in this system, we cannot stand by and allow the Executives and Nav Canada Board to dismantle it,” the union’s executive board wrote in a memo obtained by CBC News.

Nav Canada, a not-for-profit company which owns and operates the civil air navigation system, said the move is part of “critical” restructuring efforts and safety will not be impacted.

“Today’s decisions are only made after careful consideration of our core mandates of safety and service and will not have any operational impact on the safe delivery of air navigation services across Canada,” it said in a news release.

A number of operational staff and technicians were also included in the layoffs, according to Nav Canada.

Steep drop in traffic

Nav Canada manages millions of square kilometres of airspace over Canada and used to provide air navigation services for more than three million flights a year. It’s funded through service fees paid by air carriers.

COVID-19 has dramatically decreased the number of flights across the country since March. In September, there was a 63 per cent drop in air traffic compared to the same month in 2019, according to Nav Canada.

Since the beginning of COVID-19, the company has eliminated roughly 900 jobs making up almost 18 per cent of its workforce, according to the company’s news release. As previously reported, Nav Canada is also studying cutting air traffic controller jobs at seven towers across Canada in an effort to save money, a move some aviation experts and airlines warn would degrade safety in some regions.

The layoffs announced this week take effect in six months. The union said it will keep lobbying the government .

Last month, Nav Canada’s vice president and chief of operations told employees in a confidential memo he’d been pushing the federal government for help, but — unlike some countries — Canada has not released an industry-specific bailout package yet. The government’s recent economic statement did not include additional aid for Nav Canada.

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