Change may mean end to air traffic control in Sandspit

  • Mar. 27, 2009 3:00 p.m.

Pilots flying into Sandspit may end up with no air traffic control people to speak to if potential changes take place. Remote Airport Advisory Service is presently offered in Sandspit by Nav Canada, Canada’s privately controlled air navigation service provider. Pilots call in and speak with an individual in Terrace, before landing at the Moresby Island airport. Nav Canada spokesperson Ron Singer says the potential withdrawal of services is just in the proposal stage right now, and that the company will do a detailed analysis of operational and safety issues before making a decision. If there’s no remote service available, pilots will speak to each other when they enter the airspace, he says, and no matter what happens, pilots coming in to Sandspit will still have access to an automatic weather observation system, which offers a computer-generated weather report. But the Moresby Island Management Committee is opposed to any reduction and wrote a letter outlining its concern. “The loss of service will result in unsafe conditions created by a lack of control over the landing and take-off of fixed-wing aircraft, interceded by helicopter movements, runway maintenance and other competing uses,” writes Emmy O’Gorman on behalf of MIMC. A reduction in service could cause air carriers to rethink Sandspit as a safe flying destination. “Job loss from a decrease in our current air traffic would induce serious hardships on our struggling communities,” she says. Mr. Singer says people should keep the possible change in perspective. He says there are over 700 airports certified by Transport Canada countrywide and less than 100 of them have onsite air traffic personnel. Sandspit has 5,000 to 6,000 aircraft movements a year and he says that many airports with higher traffic do not have remote air traffic service. Two examples are Sherbrooke, Quebec and Peterborough, Ontario, which both have more than 10,000 air traffic movements throughout the year. Mr. Singer says safety is the primary concern for Nav Canada. The study, which is likely to begin in the coming months, will take these concerns into account, he says. “Nothing will be done to jeopardize safety or accessibility to the airport.” But local pilots and others are not convinced that safety is number one for Nav Canada. Queen Charlotte-based pilot Marvin Boyd says when the Canada’s air navigation system was privatized in 1996 by Ottawa, it was the largest government to private contractor deal in Canadian history. “Did taxes go down? No,” he says. And now taxpayers pay extra to Nav Canada to provide these services. “We got the shaft big time.” He says it is just another level of service gone, that Canadians are paying for through their taxes. He says removing the remote service from bigger airports in the north also takes jobs away from northerners. Sandspit used to have a live person in charge of air navigation, but that job disappeared with privatization. “It should be safety, safety, safety, but it’s how we can save money,” he says of the large corporation. Mr. Singer would not comment on the amount of money the company would save by removing the remote services. “I won’t discuss costs. We don’t have it broken down by costs,” he says.

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