Nfld. & Labrador

Nav Canada cuts could bring heavy job losses to N.L. airport communities, MP says

Newfoundland MP Scott Simms says he's heard from several of the estimated 200 air traffic controllers in areas like Gander, where Nav Canada serves as an important employer in the region.

As many as 40 high-paying jobs could be lost, says Scott Simms

Air traffic controllers are facing possible job cuts across central Newfoundland after Nav Canada reported a $518-million drop in revenue this year. (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 on 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 affect the economy similarly to the drop in the oil and gas sector, noting workers in both fields are 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 [Newfoundland], really."

Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame MP Scott Simms says cuts from Nav Canada could lead to as many as 40 lost jobs at Gander International Airport. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Simms said COVID-19 has affected not only those 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.

"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."

Gander Mayor Percy Farwell says the threat of mass job loss in the aviation industry is a huge concern for both Gander and the province. (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.

"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, and 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

With files from Alex Kennedy and CBC Newfoundland Morning