David Rheault, Air Canada’s managing director, government and community relations, addressed the issue during the House of Commons’ transportation committee on Thursday.
“For operations, if there’s no control tower, the operations become more complex so operations will go towards other airports, so it entails problems for our carriers,” Rheault said in response to Regina MP Michael Kram when asked about the impact of losing the airport’s air traffic control tower.
“The costs increase for everyone, difficult decisions have to be made that might jeopardize infrastructure in the long term. This is why measures have to be put in place to preserve our infrastructure.”
It comes as no surprise to James Bogusz, Regina Airport Authority president and CEO, who said there isn’t much more to cut with only two Air Canada flights a day.
But to lose the air traffic control tower altogether, Bogusz said it would create uncertainty moving forward even when the economy does recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
In November, Nav Canada said it would be conducting a study looking at removing its control tower services from the Regina airport as a way to cut costs.
About two weeks later, Nav Canada announced several layoff notices to more than 100 air controllers across the country, including 10 in Regina.
Before a final decision regarding any closures is made, Nav Canada does have to provide a report supporting its decision to the federal minister of transport.
“We’re asking it to stop. We have had this control tower for decades. The thing is built into the core of our terminal building,” Bogusz said.
“Hearing Nav Canada’s rationale for why they’re doing this just doesn’t work for us.”
If the tower is lost, Bogusz said it would be incredibly expensive to bring it back.
“We understand everyone’s struggling in aviation. We’ve laid off staff, we’ve reduced our operating budgets, but we see that as temporary,” Bogusz said.
“If you close the tower, you’re going to have to go and rehire all these controllers, move them back into the city. These are very specialized jobs. The idea that they might reopen it down the road, that’s incredibly challenging.
“It’s much easier to maintain the service today or even if they have to do something like reducing the hours temporarily – the operating hours of the tower – we could even accept that.”
Kram, who is a member of the transportation committee, said the loss of the air traffic control tower “could have a devastating effect on the quality of life for the people of Regina.”
“It’s bad enough that, after the pandemic, families yearning for a vacation may have to drive to another city to catch a flight,” Kram said.
“With few flights, our ability to host international conferences and sporting events will be diminished. Our ability to stage international trade shows, like Agribition and Canada’s Farm Progress will be diminished. Our ability to attract businesses and high-skilled workers will be diminished.”
Bogusz said Nav Canada’s review could be ready for the minister of transport sometime in the spring, who will either accept or reject its report.