Nfld. & Labrador

Nav Canada pulls back job cuts for 27 Gander air traffic controllers

The cuts were announced in December, when controllers were issued "surplus letters" informing them they would be laid off the following September.

Change made as forecasts show boost in Atlantic travel, says Nav Canada

The jobs of 27 air traffic controllers in Gander have been saved after a decision from Nav Canada to reverse pandemic-related job cuts. (Gander International Airport Authority)

Nav Canada says it will no longer be laying off 27 air traffic controllers in Gander, just days before they were scheduled to begin administrative leave.

The job cuts were announced in December, when controllers were issued "surplus letters" informing them they would be laid off the following September. The announcement came as Nav Canada was working to restructure in a time of massive pandemic losses.

Now, as the country prepares to reopen to interprovincial travel, a spokesperson for the company says their plans are evolving as well.

"We're seeing a recovery in some traffic markets, including meaningful increases in Atlantic traffic," Brian Boudreau told CBC News on Saturday. "So that leads to an increase in anticipation of increased staffing needs.

"This is primarily a decision based on considerations of the recovery that we're seeing in air traffic.… We anticipate that these air traffic controllers need to be in place for us to serve our customer needs."

Following the news, the union representing the air traffic controllers say they welcome the resolution.

"This has been a very difficult six months for the 27 in Gander … to be affected by Nav Canada's decision," said Ian Thomson, vice-president of the Atlantic region for the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association.

"They were scheduled to go on administrative leave starting on June 9. That day was rapidly approaching."

It's also a welcome sign for Gander Mayor Percy Farwell, who estimates the lost jobs would have translated to over $4 million lost from the local economy.

"It's a big bite out of your economy when you lose that many jobs. And it's very welcome when they come back," he said.

Ian Thomson, left, and Percy Farwell say they're happy with Nav Canada's decision to reverse job cuts for air traffic controllers in Gander. (CBC)

Outside the people keeping their jobs, Nav Canada said it will also continue training new air traffic controllers. Thomson said the need for training is growing every day, especially in an aging workforce.

"We're approaching traffic starting to return. And as it does, we're very concerned about the fatigue issues that have been present in air traffic control for decades," he said. "We're going to be critically short in a lot of places very quickly.

"There's a shortage of air traffic controllers globally, a number of those air traffic providers are actively recruiting.… It's entirely possible that some of those of those people may have left Gander in search of other opportunities."

Now that jobs are secure, he said, the next step will be working to develop rules to help fatigued controllers and tackle what he said is a damaged relationship with Nav Canada.

With more flights scheduled to land in Gander this summer, along with the announcement of Newfoundland and Labrador's COVID-19 reopening plan, Farwell hopes it will translate into success for the community.

"It's a source of great optimism," he said.

"That's very good for those sectors, you know, businesses, individuals and so on that require access to the rest of the world and good connectivity."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Kennedy works for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

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