Windsor air traffic controllers warned of potential layoffs due to COVID-19 impact

·2 min read

Windsor International Airport's air traffic controllers have received letters warning of potential layoffs.

The letters were sent mid-January amid a review of the airport control tower by NAV Canada, the company that operates the tower. The review, which includes several towers across Canada, was initiated due to ongoing revenue impacts brought on by the pandemic.

According to Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, the review has not yet been completed or submitted to the federal Ministry of Transportation. Dilkens, who also chairs the YQG board, sent a letter Monday to the federal Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra asking for more transparency in NAVCanada's decision.

One of the concerns raised in Dilkens' letter and another one sent to Alghabra from other key airport stakeholders is that the layoff notices suggest NAV Canada did not intend to conduct a fair review and had already made a predetermined decision on the significance of the air controllers.

But in a statement issued Monday to CBC News, NAV Canada said the surplus letters would be rescinded "in the event that the aeronautical study does not support a change."

In the "vulnerability letter" sent to employees, NAV Canada states that the company's intention is to close the Windsor Tower due to the impact of the pandemic and replace it with a Flight Service Station.

As a result, the air traffic controllers positions will likely "be eliminated" and the workers are being "declared vulnerable" as of Jan. 14.

During Windsor's city council meeting Monday, Dilkens said it's a "frustrating situation."

He's been working to get the Windsor tower removed from NAV Canada's review. He told council Monday that the complexity of the local air space means there are safety concerns with removing the air traffic controllers.

Mark Galvin, CEO of Windsor International Airport, told CBC News that back in 1979 a mid-air collision took place that killed five people and sprayed debris over Riverside.

"There's a history here of an incident because of the aircraft zone," Galvin said, adding that the crash took place as a plane was leaving Windsor airport while another was approaching Detroit.

On top of the safety component, Dilkens said, the airport has created economic growth for the city. In the last decade, he said, passenger volumes have grown by 300 per cent.

"It is a downgrade, it is less service, it puts things at risk from a safety perspective but also our ability to attract economic opportunities," Dilkens said, adding these changes can have a "lasting impact on YQG."

Despite being in talks with NAV Canada, Dilkens told council that since he is a politician, the organization has prevented him from joining consultations related to the review.

Dilkens said it's "offensive" that he's been blocked from taking part in these discussions just because he's also the mayor of Windsor.