Seven regional airports across the Prairies receiving more than $4 million to maintain regional connectivity and jobs

Targeted Government of Canada support will be provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada

WINNIPEG, MB, Aug. 4, 2021 /CNW/ – Regional air transportation is crucial to local economic growth, the movement of goods and the connectivity of Canadians across the country. The pandemic has had major impacts on regional air transportation ecosystems, affecting communities and local businesses from coast to coast to coast.

Prairie regional airports get an economic boost (CNW Group/Western Economic Diversification Canada)
Prairie regional airports get an economic boost (CNW Group/Western Economic Diversification Canada)

The Government of Canada’s Regional Air Transportation Initiative (RATI), launched in March 2021, fosters access to air transportation and supports regional ecosystems. In particular, it enables regional air carriers and airports to remain operational in these difficult times and to continue contributing to regional economic growth, while adapting to new post-COVID-19 realities and requirements.

Prairie airports to benefit from funding

With this in mind, Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary to the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, announced up to $4,012,480 in RATI funding for seven regional airports in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. This funding will enable these airports to overcome challenges that were brought on by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regional air transportation is key to the economic development of communities and businesses across Canada. Since it helps draw Canadians to rural and remote communities to work and raise their families, while also providing reliable connectivity with urban centres, it plays a crucial role in a just, inclusive recovery for all, throughout the country.


 “It is important to protect our regional air transportation ecosystems for the thousands of workers employed by this sector and for the many businesses and communities that depend on it. We know that air connectivity to all regions is essential to healthy, inclusive economic growth, and supporting it is part of our plan to build back a stronger, more resilient economy.”

–       The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada

“Regional airports and infrastructure are important to residents and businesses across the Prairies. They play a critical role for the economy as people depend on them for both personal and business travel and to access services in larger centres. This funding will go a long way to getting these assets back on their feet as Canada begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and we reopen our economy.”

–       Terry Duguid, Parliamentary Secretary to the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada and to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Canada Water Agency)

“We are excited to welcome news of support for regional connectivity. Remote communities such as ours depend on air connectivity to bolster economic activity and growth of entire sectors and industries. Reliable air connectivity not only supports thousands of jobs, but also ensures the viability of our airport which is critical to the sustainability of our community.”

–       RJ Steenstra, President & CEO, Fort McMurray Airport Authority

 “The Town of La Ronge is very appreciative for the $300,000 investment from the federal government in the La Ronge airport. The investment will not only help a critical asset in our region economy recover from COVID, it will help improve the competitiveness of our airport and speed up the recovery timelines. On behalf of Council, we are very thankful for the investment.”

–       Colin Ratushniak, Mayor of the Town of La Ronge, Saskatchewan

“As a small community, connectivity is vital for both for our economy and our residents. As the operator of a regional airport, we appreciate any help we can get as it lessens the burdens on us and our taxpayers and allows us to remain connected.”

–       Herb Jaques, Mayor of The Town of The Pas, Manitoba

Projects being funded:

City of LethbridgeLethbridge, ABup to $583,480
City of Medicine HatMedicine Hat, ABup to $549,840
Fort McMurray Airport AuthorityFort McMurray, ABup to $1,596,160
Town of High LevelHigh Level, ABup to $348,000
City of Prince AlbertPrince Albert, SKup to $300,000
Town of La RongeLa Ronge, SKup to $300,000
Town of The PasThe Pas, MBup to $335,000
                                                           Total Fundingup to $4,012,480

Quick facts

  • RATI, administered by the regional development agencies (RDAs), has a national budget of $206 million.
  • The Initiative supports regional air ecosystems—which include regional air carriers and airports, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises and non-profit organizations—in developing and implementing enhanced services for improved regional connectivity.
  • RATI complements measures implemented by Transport Canada.

Associated links

Fort McMurray International Airport gets $15M grant to help it survive pandemic’s effects

From CBC News – link to source story

Plummeting passenger numbers, decreased revenue tied to COVID-19

Jamie Malbeuf · CBC News · Jun 24, 2021

The Fort McMurray International Airport is getting a $15million injection from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. (Fort McMurray Airport Authority)

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is giving a $15-million cash injection to the operator of the Fort McMurray International Airport to help it cope with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a council meeting Tuesday, councillors voted unanimously in favour of a $15-million sustaining grant for the Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA), which owns and operates the airport.

The money will come from the municipality’s emerging issues reserve fund.

FMAA officials told the meeting that the authority saw a 60-per-cent drop in passenger traffic in 2020, leading to a significant loss in revenue.

“In 2014, YMM had more than 1.3 million annual passengers,” said Denean Robinson, the airport authority’s chief financial officer.

“In 2020, as a direct result of the pandemic, YMM passenger demand plummeted … to 229,000 passengers.”

In 2019, before the pandemic hit, the airport saw 595,000 passengers.

The airport will cost more than $32 million to operate this year. Robinson said it needs help if it is to remain fiscally sustainable.

Financial reserves have been depleted, from $44.4 million in 2019 to a projected $11 million this year.

Without intervention, the reserve fund would be empty by 2023, the authority’s financial statements indicate.

Extra funding from the municipality would allow the airport to freeze airport improvement fees, making the cost of flying more affordable while the industry rebuilds, Robinson said. 

As well, the money would help rebuild air connectivity. In the grant application, the airport authority said airlines have been focusing on routes connecting major hubs, leaving regional airports with fewer services.

The airport is currently $173 million in debt — a cost that Mayor Don Scott said would end up being absorbed by the regional municipality if the airport authority ever failed.

“This is obviously no fault of the airport’s,” Scott said.

Coun. Jeff Peddle agreed that finding the money to help the airport is the right course of action.

“Unless the municipality wants to take over the airport itself, I don’t think we have a big choice,” Peddle said.

Coun. Mike Allen said having the responsibility of the airport fall onto the municipality is not a viable solution.

“The consequences of not moving forward with this is not palatable,” he said.

‘Still struggling,’ says airport restaurant operator

Allen also emphasized that locals need to use the airport, instead of driving out of the community to catch a flight from a larger centre like Edmonton. The airport authority says that’s leading to about $43 million a year in lost revenue.

The airport has also lost revenue from its local vendors, as it gave rent relief to tenants. Instead of charging normal rent, the airport authority charged a percentage of sales to keep the businesses open. 

Stu Wigle, director of Earls in Fort McMurray, spoke at the council meeting, saying the lowered airport traffic has been difficult for the restaurant industry. 

The chain has two locations in Fort McMurray, one in the airport and one downtown. 

“Unfortunately right now there’s two different climates,” Wigle said. “Downtown’s business has been quite well; with the airport we’re still struggling quite a bit.” 

He said had the airport not offered rent relief, “we would actually be done as a business.”

Air Canada Supports Economic Recovery as the Country’s Leading Carrier, Serving 50 Cities Across Canada to Enable Canadians to Conveniently Connect

  • Most extensive domestic schedule supports Canada’s tourism and hospitality sector
  • Includes three new routes, re-established routes plus Air Canada Signature Class and Premium Economy Class cabins on select transcontinental routes
  • New refund policy gives additional peace of mind

MONTREAL, June 15, 2021 /CNW Telbec/ – Air Canada’s domestic peak summer schedule beginning at the end of June has been developed to advance the country’s economic recovery and support Canada’s tourism and hospitality businesses during the important summer period.  Three new domestic Canada routes, service to 50 Canadian airports, the re-establishment of select regional routes, and wide-body aircraft featuring Air Canada Signature Class and Premium Economy Class on select transcontinental routes are included. Seats with attractive pricing in all cabins are available for purchase now at, via the Air Canada App, Air Canada’s Contact Centres and travel agencies.

“With Canada’s ongoing vaccine roll-out acceleration together with various provincial governments’ reopening plans that include travel, this summer is looking brighter. As customers are ready to travel, Air Canada is taking a leadership position to support our partners in Canada’s tourism and hospitality sector with service to 50 destinations from coast to coast, the re-start of regional services and new, non-stop flights,” said Mark Galardo, Senior Vice President, Network Planning and Revenue Management at Air Canada.

“We are especially proud that our new state-of-the-art, Canadian-manufactured Airbus A220 aircraft will be operating across Canada. With our industry-leading CleanCare+ bio-safety protocols, promotional fares including for our premium cabins, compelling Aeroplan opportunities, and our new refund policy offering additional peace of mind, customers can book Air Canada with confidence.  We look forward to welcoming you onboard when you’re ready to fly,” concluded Mr. Galardo.

Air Canada’s new refund policy provides customers an option for a refund to the original form of payment in instances where Air Canada cancels their flight or reschedules the departure time by more than three hours, irrespective of the reason. Air Canada customers will also have the option of accepting an Air Canada Travel Voucher or Aeroplan points with a 65% bonus.  Normal fare rules will apply when customers make voluntary changes to non-affected flights.

New route details:

Montreal-Deer LakeDailyCRJ900Jul 1, 2021
Montreal-Kelowna3x Weekly July4x Weekly AugAirbus A220June 26, 2021
Montreal-Saskatoon-ReginaDailyCRJ900Aug 1, 2021

Resumption of services:

Airport StationRouteEffectiveFrequency
Gander Gander – HalifaxJun 293x Weekly
 Gander – TorontoJul 25x Weekly
St. John’s St. John’s – TorontoJun 19Daily
Goose Bay Goose Bay – St. John’sJun 293x Weekly
Deer Lake Deer Lake – HalifaxAug 15x Weekly
Halifax Halifax – CalgaryAug 15x Weekly
Sydney Sydney – TorontoJun 263x Weekly
 Sydney – MontrealAug 1Daily
Charlottetown Charlottetown – TorontoJun 184x Weekly
Saint John Saint John – MontrealJun 303x Weekly
 Saint John – TorontoJul 24x Weekly
Fredericton Fredericton – MontrealJun 29Daily
 Fredericton – TorontoJul 15x Weekly
Bathurst Bathurst – MontrealJun 273x Weekly
Quebec City Quebec City – TorontoJun 191x Daily
Ottawa Ottawa – CalgaryJul 2Daily
 Ottawa – EdmontonAug 12x Weekly
North Bay North Bay – TorontoJun 283x Weekly
Fort McMurray Fort McMurray – TorontoJuly 12x Weekly
Winnipeg Winnipeg – CalgaryJun 206x weekly
 Winnipeg – MontrealAug 1Daily
Regina Regina – CalgaryJul 15x Weekly
Saskatoon Saskatoon – CalgaryJul 25x Weekly
Kamloops Kamloops – VancouverJun 294x Weekly
 Kamloops – CalgaryJun 284x Weekly
Comox Comox – VancouverJun 303x Weekly
Nanaimo Nanaimo – TorontoJul 41x Weekly
 Nanaimo – CalgaryJul 25x weekly
Prince Rupert Prince Rupert – VancouverJun 253x Weekly
Penticton Penticton – VancouverJun 294x Weekly
Sandspit Sandspit – VancouverJun 233x Weekly
Victoria Montreal – VictoriaJun 193x Weekly
 Toronto – VictoriaJun 194x Weekly
 Calgary – VictoriaJun 214x Weekly
Castlegar Castlegar – VancouverJun 283x Weekly
Kelowna Kelowna TorontoJun 184x Weekly
Yellowknife Yellowknife – CalgaryJun 303x Weekly

Air Canada is also providing connectivity to five additional regional communities through interline agreements with third party regional carriers: Wabush, Baie Comeau, Gaspe, Mont Joli, and Val d’Or.

Air Canada’s commercial schedule may be adjusted as required based on the COVID-19 trajectory and government restrictions.

About Air Canada

Air Canada is Canada’s largest domestic and international airline, and in 2020 was among the top 20 largest airlines in the world. It is Canada’s flag carrier and a founding member of Star Alliance, the world’s most comprehensive air transportation network. Air Canada is the only international network carrier in North America to receive a Four-Star ranking according to independent U.K. research firm Skytrax. In 2020, Air Canada was named Global Traveler’s Best Airline in North America for the second straight year. In January 2021, Air Canada received APEX’s Diamond Status Certification for the Air Canada CleanCare+ biosafety program for managing COVID-19, the only airline in Canada to attain the highest APEX ranking. Air Canada has also committed to a net zero emissions goal from all global operations by 2050.

Flair Airlines Extends Domestic Schedule into 2022

The growing ULCC has released its Winter 2021/22 schedule for sale with fares starting from as low as $19

Edmonton, Alberta, May 27, 2021 – Flair Airlines, Canada’s only independent ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC), has expanded its schedule with flights to domestic destinations now on sale until March 2022.  With 24 routes and over 650,000 seats on sale, Winter 2021/22 will be Flair’s biggest ever winter schedule.

The winter schedule is part of Flair’s expansion of service to bring low fare air travel to more Canadians. The airline has 13 new aircraft on order joining the fleet in 2021 and 2022.

“We understand how keen Canadians are to travel again and our winter schedule will provide affordable air travel options to help connect the many families and friends who have been apart for the past year,” says Garth Lund, Chief Commercial Officer. “With fares available from as low as $19 and new aircraft joining the fleet, Flair will continue its expansion into the winter season.”

Bookings are now available for travel through March 26, 2022.

Air traffic control services to continue for Canadian communities

OTTAWA,ON, April 15, 2021 /CNW/ – NAV CANADA confirmed today that it will maintain air traffic control service to Canadian communities, including Fort McMurray AB, Prince George BC, Regina SK, Saint-Jean QC, Sault Ste. Marie ON, Whitehorse YT and Windsor ON.

Last fall, NAV CANADA launched 29 aeronautical studies in an effort to safely streamline its operations, ensuring that air navigation services align with market demand. After considerable consultation with airlines, airports, industry associations, local officials and internal stakeholders, NAV CANADA has elected to limit changes to services across the country. 

NAV CANADA is committing that there will be no site closures at air traffic control towers or flight service stations across the country. In addition, the Company will suspend aeronautical studies currently underway related to remote or northern locations until further notice.

“Stakeholder engagement is at the heart of NAV CANADA’s aeronautical study process. The valuable input we have received indicates that a balanced approach is warranted as the industry navigates the ongoing pandemic. We are proactively taking these steps to maintain a consistent level of service as the aviation industry and our many partners shift their focus to recovery,” said Ray Bohn, President and CEO.

The aeronautical studies, which are still in progress, will consider other alternatives to safely streamline operations, including changes to hours of operation. Aeronautical studies that were related to hours of operation from the outset or that are related to Remote Aerodrome Advisory Services will also continue, except for those pertaining to remote or northern locations.

To enhance stakeholder awareness and input, NAV CANADA will be undertaking a Notice of Proposal process that will afford stakeholders an additional opportunity to provide feedback on NAV CANADA’s specific recommendations.  

NAV CANADA remains unwavering in its commitment to safety, and any changes to the delivery of our services will be first and foremost evaluated in this context. The Company will continue to provide the air navigation services required to support industry today and throughout recovery.

Quick Facts

  • A private, non-profit corporation, NAV CANADA provides air traffic control, airport advisory services, weather briefings and aeronautical information services for more than 18 million square kilometers of Canadian domestic and oceanic airspace.
  • Under the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act, NAV CANADA recovers its operating expense through service charges from its customers on a breakeven basis. Its customers include airlines, air cargo operators, air charter operators, air taxis, helicopter operators, and business and general aviation.
  • Aeronautical Studies consider all relevant factors, including traffic volume, mix and distribution throughout the day; weather; airport and airspace configuration; surface activity; and the efficiency requirements of operators using the service. Formal consultation with stakeholders is central to all Aeronautical Studies.
  • NAV CANADA’s safety record is irrefutably one of the best in the world amongst air navigation service providers. We have achieved this record based on a regulated decision-making approach with safety at the very core of all that we do.


NAV CANADA is a private, not-for-profit company, established in 1996, providing air traffic control, airport advisory services, weather briefings and aeronautical information services for more than 18 million square kilometres of Canadian domestic and international airspace.

The Company is internationally recognized for its safety record, and technology innovation. Air traffic management systems developed by NAV CANADA are used by air navigation service providers in countries worldwide.

WestJet leads domestic recovery with the addition of 11 new routes

Airline’s investments in Western Canada support travel and tourism in anticipation of summer demand 

CALGARY, AB, March 26, 2021 /CNW/ – WestJet today announced 11 new domestic routes across Western Canada. The routes will offer new nonstop service for 15 communities across Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The enhancements follow an announcement made earlier in the week to return previously suspended service to Atlantic Canada and Quebec City.  

A message from WestJet President and CEO Ed Sims, on the airline’s commitment to Canada’s safe restart 

“As we look to the coming months with cautious optimism, we know our restart agenda will be pivotal to Canada’s economic recovery,” said Ed Sims, WestJet President and CEO. “Stimulating air travel benefits all Canadians and supports those hardest hit; with one in every 10 Canadian jobs tied to travel and tourism, the ripple effect benefits our whole country.”  

The new routes include service between Toronto (YYZ) and Comox (YQQ); between Ottawa (YOW) and Victoria (YYJ) and eight new routes connecting the prairie provinces to British Columbia tourism destinations, such as Regina (YQR) to Kelowna (YLW). Full schedule details and start dates are outlined below. 

“We are at an inflection point; one that is buoyed by the rollout of vaccines, months of learning how to take appropriate precautions, and a view to Canada’s beautiful summer months that allows us to spend more time outdoors,” continued Sims. “If Canadians were to shift two-thirds of their planned international-leisure travel spend towards domestic tourism, it would help sustain 150,000 jobs and accelerate recovery by one year, all while seeing what Canada has to offer.” 

New routes: 

Route Frequency Effective from 
Toronto – Fort McMurray 2x weekly (Wed, Sun) June 6, 2021 
Kelowna – Saskatoon 2x weekly (Thu, Sun) June 24, 2021 
Kelowna – Regina 2x weekly (Thu, Sun) June 24, 2021 
Saskatoon – Victoria 2x weekly (Thu, Sun) June 24, 2021 
Winnipeg – Victoria 3x weekly (Thu, Sat, Sun) June 24, 2021 
Edmonton – Kamloops 2x weekly (Thu, Sun) June 24, 2021 
Edmonton – Penticton 2x weekly (Thu, Sun) June 24, 2021 
Edmonton – Nanaimo 2x weekly (Fri, Sun) June 25, 2021 
Prince George – Abbotsford 2x weekly (Fri, Sun) June 25, 2021 
Ottawa – Victoria 1x weekly (Sat) June 26, 2021 
Toronto – Comox 1x weekly (Sat) June 26, 2021 

About WestJet 

In 25 years of serving Canadians, WestJet has cut airfares in half and increased the flying population in Canada to more than 50 per cent. WestJet launched in 1996 with three aircraft, 250 employees and five destinations, growing over the years to more than 180 aircraft, 14,000 employees and more than 100 destinations in 23 countries, pre-pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic the WestJet Group of Companies has built a layered framework of safety measures to ensure Canadians can continue to travel safely and responsibly through the airline’s Safety Above All hygiene program. During this time, WestJet has maintained its status as one of the top-10 on-time airlines in North America as named by Cirium.

For more information about everything WestJet, please visit

Sault Airport one of seven under review by Nav Canada

From SooToday – link to source story

Study of air traffic service and aviation weather requirements expected to be presented to Transport Canada for safety review this spring

By: SooToday Staff | 23 Febrauary 2021

20200301-Sault Ste. Marie Airport, winter, stock-DT-01Sault Ste. Marie Airport file photo. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Nav Canada, the non-profit body that runs the country’s civil air navigation service, is currently reviewing seven airport towers in small Canadian cities, including Sault Ste. Marie.

Others under review are those located in St-Jean, Que.; Windsor, Ont.; Regina, Sask.; Fort McMurray, Alta.; Prince George, B.C.; and Whitehorse, Yukon.

At the heart of each review is whether air traffic at the airports warrants having a control tower as opposed to an advisory service for pilots, reports the Canadian Press.

In a Terms of Reference (TOR) issued in November of last year, Nav Canada explained that “the total annual aircraft movements have ranged from 55,225 to 65,228. These movements are either below or are at the lower levels of the established guidelines for the provision of Airport Control Services based on the Nav Canada Policy Delivery of Air Navigation Services.”

“We have to operate the right service, at the right place, at the right time,” Jonathan Bagg, Nav Canada’s director of stakeholder and industry relations, told the Canadian Press. “The COVID-19 pandemic does give us additional stimulus because of the financial environment; however, the studies are warranted regardless of COVID-19.”   

The aeronautical study to review air traffic service and aviation weather requirements at the Sault Airport is expected to be presented to Transport Canada for safety review this spring.

“A strong system of airports is essential to supporting recovery from COVID-19 for our travel and tourism sector, as well as our trade-based regional and national economies,” Terry Bos, the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation’s president and CEO, said in a news release issued on Feb. 9. “Canada’s airports and our air sector partners want to play a leading role in this recovery but may not be able to effectively do so without intervention by government.”

Earlier this month, the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation reported record low passenger levels.

Passenger traffic dropped by more than 89 per cent in January from the previous year.

Also in January of this year, the airport announced a 41 per cent reduction in staff as flights were cut due to the ongoing pandemic.

Today, the Canadian Press reports that aviation is among the hardest hit industries as federal travel restrictions continue and public health officials discourage travelling.

Air traffic controllers say potential job cuts at Nav Canada would put lives at risk

From The Globe and Mail – link to source story


Air traffic controllers say Nav Canada is mulling layoffs even if it receives a possible bailout from Ottawa, jeopardizing passenger safety.

More cuts would axe critically needed workers and make for a more hazardous airspace in corridors across the country, according to the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association.

About 60 jobs are at stake in seven control towers from Whitehorse to Windsor, Ont., as the non-profit body that runs the country’s civil air navigation service reviews whether to pare down its payroll – already thinned by nearly 1,000 positions over the past year.

“The risk increases significantly without a control service,” said union head Doug Best.

“The reason a control service is so much safer is because I will tell that pilot what to do, and the pilot will listen to what we say, knowing that we’re keeping airplanes separate so that they can focus on actually flying their airplane.”

Nav Canada CEO Ray Bohn told the House of Commons transport committee this month that its study of potential service reductions would go on independent of any federal relief package.

“We would continue to look at those level-of-service initiatives regardless of government support,” he said on Feb. 2.

The permanent closure of seven control towers – a possible outcome of Nav Canada aeronautical studies – would still see pilots receive traffic information from a slimmed-down service, but they would have to make their own navigation decisions and largely fend for themselves during takeoff or landing.

Mark Galvin, CEO of Windsor International Airport, says control towers are “essential” to ensuring safety in a busy airspace like his.

“The airspace around Windsor-Detroit is pretty complicated,” Galvin said. “Nav Canada and a control tower is vital.”

Galvin recalled a horrific mid-air collision in 1979 when a small plane leaving Windsor Airport hit another approaching Detroit City Airport, killing all five people aboard.

Traffic has only risen since then, notwithstanding a recent dip caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nav Canada saw profits and air traffic plummet over the past year as the pandemic battered the organization, prompting some 720 jobs lost among roughly 5,200 employees since March, plus another 180 announced in December.

“Regardless of any financial aid, Nav Canada must continue to fulfill its commitment to efficiently run Canada’s air navigation system, ensuring that the services supplied align with market demands,” spokesman Brian Boudreau said in an e-mail.

“We will continue to monitor air traffic activity across the country and adapt operations safely and accordingly,”

The company hiked its rates by 30 per cent in September, prompting at least one carrier to raise surcharges for passengers on domestic flights.

Then-CEO Neil Wilson said the hike allowed Nav Canada to seek debt financing and ensure liquidity after it unsuccessfully asked Ottawa for financial support last summer.

Despite the job cuts, Nav Canada’s CEO acknowledged earlier this month that he received a bonus last year, part of $7 million in bonuses given to the non-profit’s management team of hundreds.

However, managers took “significant reductions” to their pay and pensions due to the pandemic, Bohn said

“There was no corporate bonus for executives from March 1 – the date of the pandemic – for the balance of the fiscal year,” he told the transport committee.

Control towers cannot be closed without a green light from the federal transport minister following a safety assessment by the department, Transport Canada said.

“I appreciate the importance of the air traffic control towers to their communities and have heard from many stakeholders about the need to ensure the continued safe operation of the airspace,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement.

“We will not tolerate any risks to the safety of Canadians.”

The potential axing of 60 air traffic control jobs would come on top of nearly 50 more layoffs slated to take effect in June at flight service centres in Gander, N.L., Moncton, N.B., and Montreal.

Best, the union president, acknowledged the continuing plunge in global air traffic might require fewer traffic controllers. But he said new employees need about two years’ training at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars each, while a shortage of controllers across the globe could lure laid-off workers overseas, raising expenditures and labour hurdles for Nav Canada when flight numbers start to climb.

The Finance Department continues to negotiate with the aviation sector over a relief package, which it says will be contingent on companies protecting jobs, maintaining regional routes and offering refunds to passengers whose flights were cancelled.

“We remain committed to supporting Canadians airlines and people who work in the air sector during this unprecedented and difficult time,” Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an e-mail.

The negotiations are primarily with airlines rather than other air industry firms.

The air traffic control towers under review by Nav Canada are in St-Jean, Que., Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Regina, Fort McMurray, Alta., Prince George, B.C., and Whitehorse.

As flight service collapses in Atlantic Canada under strain of COVID-19, some worry the region’s being cut off from the rest of the country

From The Toronto Star – link to source story

An Air Canada jet takes off from Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Enfield, N.S. on Thursday, March 8, 2012. A union official says Air Canada is laying off more than 5,000 flight attendants as the country's largest airline cuts routes and parks planes due to COVID-19.

By Steve McKinley, Halifax Bureau ~ Wed., Jan. 20, 2021

We are in the depths of it right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted and locked down our lives. But as a vaccination effort continues across Canada, there is hope that, in the months ahead, things will get better, and that, eventually, we will emerge from this crisis. With an eye to that light at the end of our tunnel, the Star is beginning a new series — The Long Road Back. We will look at different parts of our world, our society and our lives, and consider how they may emerge from this ordeal forever changed. Because we have, in some ways, already started our long road back to whatever our new normal will be.

Every two weeks, on a Wednesday, Howell would leave St. John’s, N.L., and fly to Toronto. There he’d catch a flight to Fort McMurray, drive 50 kilometres southeast to Anzac, Alta., get a good night’s sleep and get up Thursday morning to work as a power engineer at an oil facility.

That commute has become a lot more complicated lately, after the latest round of airline service reductions to Newfoundland — and the rest of Atlantic Canada.

This last trip, Howell had to fly St. John’s to Halifax to Toronto to Calgary to Fort McMurray. The route added another seven to eight hours to a trip that already took nine or 10, he said.

And, in order to make his flights, he had to leave home a day earlier, on the Tuesday — and spend an extra day on-site in Anzac — to be able to get to work on time.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “With the flights cut, it’s a lot longer travelling. You’ve got to get up earlier. You lose a day home flying up, and 12 hours flying back, like a full day which you’re not paid for. (There’s) fatigue, for sure.”

Over the past 10 months, both domestic carriers, Air Canada and WestJet, citing low travel demand due to COVID-19 restrictions, have slashed passenger-carrying capacity and workforce across the country. The service cuts are worrisome to those in a region where connections to the rest of the country have not always been easy.

In pre-COVID times, Atlantic Canada had flights connecting it to 130 destinations. After this latest round of cuts, there are now 29. Of those, only nine flights connect Atlantic Canada to the rest of the country.

St. John’s, N.L., which used to have flights to Toronto 11 times daily, will, as of Jan. 23, have none. Its flights outside of Atlantic Canada have been reduced to a single flight per day to Montreal. The Charlottetown airport now runs only a single daily flight to Montreal. In Saint John, N.B., and in Sydney, N.S., all flights have been suspended. And as of Jan. 23, there will be no passenger flights out of Fredericton’s airport either.

As a net result, some argue, Atlantic Canada is at risk of being largely cut off from the rest of the country.

The cuts are already being keenly felt by rotational workers such as Howell. Time is precious for workers coming home to Newfoundland — the first seven days of Howell’s 14 at home are spent self-isolating. Those extra days lost in transit are days he could be spending with his one-and-a-half-year-old niece and a nephew, born in March, who he has barely been able to see.

The cuts are also concerning because many believe the region’s ability to bounce back economically after COVID-19 depends on seamless access to the rest of the country. The worry is that, once travel restrictions are eased, the suspended routes may take a long time to be re-established — if, in fact, they are re-established at all.

“When we get to the other side, where people want to move again, what kind of connectivity are we going to have as a region?” asked Monette Pasher, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, which represents the 12 commercial airports in the region.

“We can’t really turn things on a dime. It took us about 10 years to get to the route network that we had pre-COVID.”

This time last year, said Pasher, there were new routes being announced to Western Canada; there were flights being planned to the U.K. and to the rest of Europe; and there was the prospect of routes from new low-cost carriers such as Swoop and Flair.

Today, all those plans are gone; the timetable for the return of routes is uncertain.

And uncertainty is something that businesses don’t like.

Sheri Somerville, CEO of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, cites some sobering figures: a $3-billion loss to the tourism industry in Atlantic Canada in 2020, part of a $12-billion overall loss in the region’s six core industries.

Recovering from those kinds of economic losses will take time, said Somerville, and the lack of efficient air transport service will extend that time.

“One thing that we know for sure is reducing air service, or suspending air service, creates uncertainty,” she said.

“Consumer confidence is not a light switch that you can just turn on. It’s more like a dimmer switch; it’s going to come on slowly. So yes, people are eager to get back to normal. But we don’t know what that new normal is going to be like. So, businesses don’t know what to plan for.”

This month, Somerville, on behalf of the chamber, sent an open letter to four federal ministers and the premiers of all the Atlantic provinces, calling on those governments to provide financial support for air carriers and airports, and to reduce some of that uncertainty by communicating vaccination plans and economic recovery plans.

“We are asking for your governments’ support and leadership to ensure that Atlantic Canadians are not permanently severed from the rest of Canada due to the significantly impaired operations of national airlines and the airports serving our region,” she wrote.

“To be forthright, we cannot grow our population, increase our tax base, and attract investment if people and businesses cannot efficiently and cost-effectively access this region.”

While Air Canada did not respond to questions about what kind of aid it might be looking for from the government, it did point a finger at COVID-19 and government travel restrictions and self-isolation requirements in its decision to suspend flights.

“With the latest travel restrictions, we have seen an immediate impact to our close-in bookings and have made the difficult but necessary decision to further adjust our schedule and rationalize our transborder, Caribbean and domestic routes to better reflect expected demand and to reduce cash burn,” wrote Air Canada spokesperson Pascale Déry in an emailed statement.

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu has previously said, speaking generally, that air travel won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until as late as 2025.

The federal government, for its part, says it’s open to supporting the airlines, but has stressed that there will be caveats attached.

“We know that major airlines need specific support and that’s why the Government of Canada is also engaging with Canada’s major air carriers regarding potential options for financial assistance to the Canadian airline industry,” said Transport Canada spokesperson Allison St-Jean in an email.

“Discussions about taxpayer support for the airlines will need to address refunds for cancelled flights as well as the reinstatement of regional routes in Canada.”

But not everyone is optimistic that those regional flights will be reinstated.

When it comes time to rethink those flights, airlines will most certainly be looking at the bottom line, says Herb Emery, the Vaughn Chair in regional economics at University of New Brunswick.

He said the costs of re-establishing those routes — including personnel and running unprofitable flights until traffic builds back up — might prompt airlines to consider centralizing flights in fewer airports.

“Coming back, you have to look at the fixed costs of restarting those routes. And so Air Canada and WestJet could be looking at: ‘Well, we’ve still got service in Halifax, we’ve still got service in Moncton. We can just serve the area by expanding our frequency of flights in and out.”

That might work well for the airlines, but for Atlantic Canada travellers, it means many of them will have to travel hours to get to the nearest airport with a flight that will take them to the rest of Canada.

If those suspended flights are to be re-established, said Emery, it will likely require some form of government intervention.

What might that look like? In what he calls the Ticketmaster model, the government might purchase a certain number of seats on lower-revenue routes. That would guarantee airlines a certain amount of revenue, and the government would sell off the seats as demand grew. If the demand was strong, those tickets might be sold for a higher price than they were purchased.

It’s just one of the ideas being floated to revive a flagging industry when the time comes.

For those such as Howell, who have to travel frequently, recovering the lost flights is vital. The cuts have translated into time lost with his niece and nephew. And with his non-quarantine time in Newfoundland already at a premium, he said, any lost time is too much.

Steve McKinley is a Halifax-based reporter for the Star.

© Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. 1996 – 2021

NAV CANADA looks to streamline operations

OTTAWA, Nov. 24, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — NAV CANADA continues to take steps to safely streamline its operations to help preserve the sustainability of the country’s air navigation system. The Company is moving forward with additional adjustments to its services and will be launching level of service reviews for six air traffic control towers. This includes completing a rigorous, safety-focused review of air traffic to determine whether airport advisory services should be offered in lieu of air traffic control.

NAV CANADA must continue to fulfill its commitment to efficiently run Canada’s air navigation system, ensuring that the services supplied align with market demands. The following sites were identified for review as a result of long-term air traffic levels, including prior to the pandemic:

  • Fort McMurray Tower, AB
  • Prince George Tower, BC  
  • Regina Tower, SK   
  • Sault Ste. Marie Tower, ON  
  • Whitehorse Tower, YT  
  • Windsor Tower, ON

Aeronautical studies apply a safety-focused and Transport Canada regulated process, which NAV CANADA has followed in support of its globally recognized safety record for more than 20 years. This rigorous, systematic approach provides for full consultation with all affected stakeholders, with the key factor being safety.

Quick Facts

  • A private, non-profit corporation, NAV CANADA provides air traffic control, airport advisory services, weather briefings and aeronautical information services for more than 18 million square kilometers of Canadian domestic and oceanic airspace.
  • Under the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act, NAV CANADA recovers its operating expense through service charges from its customers on a breakeven basis.
  • NAV CANADA’s provides services to airlines, air cargo operators, air charter operators, air taxis, helicopter operators, and business and general aviation.
  • Aeronautical studies consider all relevant factors, including traffic volume, mix and distribution throughout the day; weather; airport and airspace configuration; surface activity; and the efficiency requirements of operators using the service. Formal consultation with stakeholders is central to all aeronautical studies.
  • NAV CANADA’s safety record is irrefutably one of the best in the world amongst air navigation service providers. We have achieved this record based on a regulated decision-making approach with safety at the very core of all that we do.