New concerns in the airline industry as controller layoffs could slow the recovery and jeopardize aviation safety in Canada, and major international carriers downgrade their forecasts for 2021.
In the past year, Nav Canada, the private company that manages air traffic in the country, has laid off 900 people, or 17.5% of its workforce. This loss of expertise worries an expert and the union of air traffic controllers, who fear for the resumption of flight activities when the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
“With the layoffs announced and the closure of control towers, we will lose staff and we think that security will be affected when it resumes,” comments Benoit Vachon, regional vice-president of the Canadian Traffic Control Association. aerial (ACCTA). “We had 2050 members before the pandemic and we went down to around 1800. We’re going to be short of staff. ”
Among those laid off are almost all of the air traffic controllers in training at Nav Canada, which is the only place in the country that offers specialized training to become a controller. The training lasts two to three years before an air traffic controller can become fully autonomous, explains ACCTA.
“They are mortgaging the future to try to make the accounting happen during the crisis,” explains Mehran Ebrahimi, professor at the School of Management Sciences at UQAM.
Before the pandemic, there was already a labor shortage, so air traffic controllers regularly had to work overtime.
The system is already working with overtime, like nurses. There is an issue of fatigue for air traffic controllers.
Benoit Vachon, Regional Vice-President of the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association
Mehran Ebrahimi fears that the workload of controllers will be increased when the return is made and that there will be no time to train new candidates, which could potentially lead to more accidents, he said.
“When we analyze air accidents, an important element is the general condition of the pilot and the controller,” explains Mr. Ebrahimi. As we cannot make the same controllers work longer and longer, when we resume, we will either have tired controllers or we will have hastily trained controllers. ”
11 layoffs in Quebec
In Quebec, 11 controllers from the Montreal Air Traffic Control Center will be laid off. This center manages the airspace over Quebec and parts of Ontario and Nunavut. Eight tower controllers at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu airport also received a layoff notice in January. The control towers at Dorval and Mirabel airports are not affected by these cuts.
“Nav Canada would never dare to make decisions that could compromise safety. Any allegation that Nav Canada can do anything to compromise safety as a result of changes to its service delivery totally contradicts the Company’s core values, ”commented by email Brian Boudreau, Media Relations Manager at the company.
“All decisions made at Nav Canada are taken with a long-term perspective, with the goal of preserving the viability of the Company and the integrity of the air navigation system on behalf of all Canadians,” he added. .
Nav Canada was created in 1996 with the privatization of air traffic control services, then provided by Transport Canada. Nav Canada is a non-profit, non-share capital corporation. It finances itself by charging fees to air carriers that use Canada’s airspace. It had to increase its rates by almost 30% last summer.
Major carriers are downgrading their forecasts
The long-awaited resumption of air transport could very well be delayed longer than expected, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which published its forecast for the year 2021 on Wednesday.
In its report, the organization, which brings together 290 international airlines, predicts that its members will continue to burn cash for the next year. In 2021, the industry as a whole could lose C $ 94 billion to $ 119 billion, rather than the $ 60 billion estimated last November, before returning to profitability no earlier than 2022.
“If governments are not able to open the borders, we will ask them to open their wallets and offer us financial support so that the airlines survive”, commented Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of IATA, in a press release on Wednesday.
The group emphasizes the need for joint planning between airlines and governments, as well as the establishment of internationally recognized standards for the assessment of the health status and vaccination records of passengers.
The closure of the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu tower could create nuisances
According to Benoit Vachon, of the air traffic controllers union, the closure of the control tower at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu airport could lead to more nuisance for the population of the city of Montérégie. Air traffic controllers decide the routes of approaching aircraft and generally try to prevent aircraft from flying too often over nearby residential areas. In an uncontrolled airport, it is the pilots themselves who decide their approach path, without regard for the tranquility of the inhabitants.
Closing the tower would endanger pilots who must land on one of the airport’s three runways, says Normand Prenoveau, president of the Association of Pilots and Hangar Owners of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It would also jeopardize the popular Air Cadet summer camp, which offers a rare initiation to aviation for young people. Nav Canada has not formally decided to close the tower at Saint-Jean-sur Richelieu airport. Rather, it is the subject of a study by the company. The controllers who work there received a letter on January 8 warning them that their positions could be declared surplus from July 8. “If ever the aeronautical studies do not support a change, the excess status letters will be canceled,” the company commented on Wednesday.