Nav Canada to lay off 180 more workers, including at historic Gander area control center

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Nav Canada plans to lay off 180 people across the country, employees were told Wednesday, as the pandemic and travel restrictions continue to cripple the airline industry.
This latest round of cuts includes air traffic controllers who coordinate the movement of planes between airports to ensure they are properly separated in the air.

One of the affected area control centers is one of the largest employers in Gander, the Netherlands, where generations of families have worked together and played a part in history.

Documentaries were made on how the city’s air traffic controllers helped safely land more than 200 hijacked planes safely on September 11. There is even a musical, Come from far away on how more than 6,000 stranded passengers were greeted in the small town of Newfoundland.

Some of the air traffic controllers there are checking aircraft over the northwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean – the first radar surveillance site that planes have hit from Europe. This is also where aircraft from the east coast converge with traffic from central Canada and the US Midwest.

In addition to Gander’s, the union representing air traffic controllers has told its members that layoff notices have also been served on 49 controllers in Moncton, Montreal and Edmonton. Nav Canada also sent notices Monday to employees at the Saint-Jean tower in Quebec City and the Vancouver area control center.

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

Safety concerns

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

“Each of us understands that security is affected and, as stakeholders in this system, we cannot sit idly by and allow the leadership and board of Nav Canada to dismantle it,” wrote the union board of directors in a note obtained by CBC News.

Nav Canada, a non-profit company that owns and operates the civil air navigation system, said the move was part of “critical” restructuring efforts and that safety would not be affected.

“Today’s decisions are only made after careful consideration of our core safety and service mandates and will have no operational impact on the safe delivery of air navigation services across Canada,” a- he said in a statement.

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

Sharp drop in traffic

Nav Canada manages millions of square kilometers of airspace over Canada and is used to provide air navigation services for more than three million flights per year. It is funded by service charges paid by air carriers.

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

Since the start of COVID-19, the company has cut around 900 jobs, or nearly 18% of its workforce, according to the company’s press release. As previously reported, Nav Canada is also looking into cutting air traffic controller jobs in seven towers across Canada in an effort to save money., a decision warned by some aviation experts and airlines would undermine safety in some areas.

The layoffs announced this week take effect in six months. The union said it would continue to pressure the government.

Last month, Nav Canada’s vice president and chief operating officer told employees in a confidential memo that he had been pushing the federal government for help, but – unlike some countries – Canada has yet to issued an industry-specific rescue plan. The government’s recent economic statement did not include additional support for Nav Canada.

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