Nav Canada cuts could bring large job loss to N.L. airport communities, MP says

·4 min read
Gander International Airport Authority
Gander International Airport Authority

Job cuts within Nav Canada, the company that owns and operates Canada's civil air navigation service, could lead to as many as one in five controllers in central Newfoundland out of work, according to Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame MP Scott Simms.

The private company warned air traffic controllers job cuts were coming through a confidential memo last week, in which Nav Canada reported a $518 million drop in revenue compared to its budget due to COVID-19.

Simms said he's heard from several of the estimated 200 controllers in areas like Gander, where Nav Canada serves as an important employer in the region.

"They're very worried for several reasons. They don't know at this point what will unfold," Simms told CBC Newfoundland Morning Wednesday. "As far as we know it's around 40 positions. That includes most of the air traffic controllers."

Simms said job losses could also go beyond air traffic controllers, saying local flight service specialists and IT workers could also be facing cuts.

"These aren't small jobs by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "These are high-paying jobs, highly skilled. And right now the question has to be asked, where does one go from here?"

He said a loss of jobs in the air traffic sector could bring similar effects to the economy as the drop seen in the oil and gas sector, comparing workers in both fields as highly skilled but not necessarily in demand right now.

"It's going to be hard for the town of Gander first and foremost," Simms said. "Then you're looking at other places around the area that also involve people who work at the centre … Appleton, Glenwood, Benton and throughout central really."

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Simms said COVID-19 has not only impacted those currently in the air traffic industry, but those looking to enter it as well. Most air traffic training has been either cancelled or put on hold due to the pandemic, with workers needed once air traffic returns to pre-COVID-19 numbers.

"There are a lot of young people getting into this business, and these are lifelong careers that support families throughout central Newfoundland," he said.

"This is an essential, essential service. What Gander does, it looks after North Atlantic air traffic all over. So to say it's an essential service is an understatement. It guides us through basically what is [coming] from Europe over to North America."

Lost jobs a provincial issue, Gander mayor says

Gander Mayor Percy Farwell said although the impact of lost work may be felt most in Gander, the cuts could have a ripple effect across the province.

"It should be a major concern to the province," Farwell said. "It's millions of dollars in salary we're talking about that could be eliminated."

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

He said the lack of training impacts the ability to bring in new workers, and may affect the industry's recovery when things return to normal.

"Because they have big numbers and they have a fair amount of attrition and so on, there's almost a continual state of training and new people into that workforce," he said.

"My fear is with the reductions that they've had to make now, the situation they're creating for themselves is that once air traffic does resume, they're not going to be positioned to respond to it and to provide services to ensure the safety of that traffic," he said.

"It's not something you can just throw a switch on and when the traffic returns you can just call over to the job bank."

Simms said he wants to meet with the Minister responsible on Wednesday to voice his concerns, but hopes Gander and other Newfoundland locations will remain a priority for Nav Canada, becoming a "centrepiece for aviation" in the North Atlantic.

"In this particular case, there are two centres here: there's Moncton and Gander. And I hope they decide not to do a centralization where a lot of these positions get moved to Moncton," he said.

"I may be putting the cart before the horse...[but] you gotta jump on this stuff right away."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador