Layoff notices issued to air traffic controllers at Regina International Airport before review complete

·3 min read

Air traffic controllers at Regina's International Airport have been given layoff notices.

The notices were given amid a service review at the airport, which was looking at whether it was necessary to keep the control tower. Nav Canada — which runs the tower — is in charge of that review, which was supposed to take until spring, with the ensuing report being given to Transport Canada.

James Bogusz, president and CEO of the Regina Airport Authority, said the airport was promised robust consultation, but they had one session in early January and the notices were given at the end of January. He said the notices indicate the intention of Nav Canada to close the control tower.

The airline industry has been devastated by COVID-19.

Premier Scott Moe tweeted about the news Monday, saying: "Now is not the time to be making a decision like this. While the number of flights in and out of YQR is greatly reduced right now, this will change when we emerge from pandemic and YQR will be an important part of Regina's and Saskatchewan's strong economic recovery."

His tweet featured a letter from the provincial minister of highways, Fred Bradshaw, to federal minister of transport, Omar Alghabra. The letter asks Alghabra to step in and reverse the layoffs and to not put the airport under review for this type of action for at least a year.

Bogusz said these layoffs are very concerning and that the loss of the traffic control tower would strangle growth of the airport.

"We're not even yet out of the month of January. Nav Canada originally contacted our airport back in mid-November, had promised a robust consultation process, full transparency and [said they'd] give an opportunity to have responses and [have] things be heard," he said.

That did not happen, according to Bogusz.

Bogusz said he reached out to Nav Canada with his concerns but was not satisfied with their response.

"This is just unreasonable to me that at this early stage in the process, without even a completed report, there's already notices being issued about closing down towers," Bogusz said.

'We're not just a small city'

The airport's growth is at stake, and the tower has been a part of the airport for decades, so why take it out now, Bogusz asked. The tower also allows not only for the control of airplanes, but it facilitates things like snow removal vehicles and de-icing efforts. Without it, life at the airport is just much slower.

"It is irrational to us that we would have a control tower for decades, we would have growth in our airport in recent years, and yet now they're undertaking a review to reduce this very important service for our community," he said.

"We're just not a small city. Last I checked ... we serve all of southern Saskatchewan, which is almost half a million residents."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

Regina mayor Sandra Masters echoed that concern about growth. She said she felt it was disingenuous to go about the layoffs this way, since the review isn't done. People might not think Regina is a place worth doing business in if traffic at the airport is reduced or if traffic at the airport cannot grow, according to Masters.

"If that shuts down here and those layoffs proceed, those individuals will need to go somewhere else to find employment. So now we lose citizens, we lose their spouses and we lose their kids from our community," she said.

"These are reasonable paying jobs. We want them here. We want our tower here both again, because it's warranted, but in addition to that, because we were on a path for growth and we want to be really well-positioned as a city to continue that economic growth so that we can continue to employ more people."