MP raises concerns as review puts air traffic control tower at stake

Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty is raising alarm bells over a review that could put the air traffic control tower at Prince George Airport on the chopping block.

In a statement issued this week, Nav Canada said it will be launching level of service reviews for towers at six airports across the country, including the one in Prince George.

It said the six were chosen "as a result of long-term air traffic levels, including prior to the pandemic," and depending on the outcome, "airport advisory services should be offered in lieu of air traffic control."

If the change were to happen, pilots would responsible for maintaining a safe distance from other aircraft while flight service specialists stationed at the airport would provide updates on weather, runway conditions and traffic in the area, vehicle control and emergency assistance.

The announcement did not sit well with Doherty, who was the airport's director of marketing and business development for a number of years.

"This is unacceptable," Doherty said in a posting on social media. "Studying the efficacy or importance of an air traffic tower during a time when global air traffic numbers are at all time lows is lunacy."

Prince George airport is home to one of the longest runways in Canada, is an emergency landing spot for many foreign carriers and in the summer is a regional hub for air tankers used to fight forest fires, Doherty also said.

Prince George Airport Authority CEO Gordon Duke adopted a more neutral tone when reached for comment.

"We'll be working closely with Nav Canada and all our stakeholders to make sure that the air navigation system remains solid," Duke said. "We understand that technology has changed a lot and we just want to make sure that the airport operates as safely and efficiently as it did before."

He said traffic at the airport has been down more than 70 per cent in the past three months. He added medical evacuations to the list of important services the airport provides.

Prior to the announcement Nav Canada had 30 reviews underway, Duke said.

"We're early days on this," he said. "It's going to be at least, in my mind, six months before we would have any insight into what might happen."

Nav Canada spokesperson Rebecca Hickey said the outcome of such studies is never pre-determined.

"It could mean changing services, modifying hours or remaining status quo, for example," she said. Nav Canada owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation service.

"As a private company, our revenues come from our aviation customers, not government. By investing in technology and controlling costs, we have kept customer rates stable while improving safety and flight efficiency," Nav Canada says on its website.

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