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Employee health and safety is critical to Canadian air operators during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s no different for Nav Canada, the country’s air navigation services provider (ANSP).
During a recent conference call with members of the Northern Air Transport Association (NATA), Nav Canada representatives described their organization’s approach to dealing with the fallout from COVID-19.
“Considering the times, I think we’re doing as well as we could be,” said Rudy Kellar, executive vice-president, Service Delivery.
“Three months ago, when getting ready to come to (NATA’s annual conference scheduled for April in Whitehorse, Yukon, but cancelled due to the pandemic), we had a different agenda to talk about. Of course, that was much more encouraging than what Nav Canada and the industry are dealing with now.”
As a private non-profit corporation that manages more than 18 million square kilometres of Canadian and oceanic airspace, Kellar said Nav Canada has been focused on ensuring the continuation of uninterrupted service during the pandemic.
“When we looked at COVID-19, we went into preparedness, prevention and response mode,” he explained. “By late January, our national emergency management team met frequently on the coronavirus. By mid-February, we had a pandemic plan coming together, and by the second week of March, we were looking at FIR (Flight Information Region) centres for what preparedness could look like. On March 12, we activated daily communication regionally and nationally, really looking at the COVID advice from public health.”
Nav Canada’s prevention strategy has focused on containment, he added. “We’ve reinforced cleaning of shared workstations, putting gloves into the operation, not allowing people to come to work with any flu-like symptoms, and postponing any non-essential access. Non-essential employees were advised to work from home.”
So far, four Nav Canada employees have tested positive for COVID-19; three have recovered and returned to work, with the fourth hopefully following soon.
Similar to ANSPs around the world, the organization began mitigating costs and cash flow in early April. However, Kellar said its operations involve certain fixed costs that necessarily accompany the delivery of air navigation services.
“The number of shifts at most ACCs (area control centres) have been scaled back in a manner that reflects traffic levels and with safety as our top priority,” he said, adding that this will be in effect until what he called the “post-COVID normal.”
Nav Canada is analyzing how long it may take for traffic to rebound in an effort to position itself to support the industry’s recovery.
Heather McGonigal, assistant vice-president, Stakeholder and Commercial Relations at Nav Canada, told webinar participants the goal is to continue to provide the necessary level of service for safe operations.
“We are concerned that, like what happened in the U.S. with facilities having to be closed down (due to employee sickness and self-isolation), that could happen to us,” she said. “We have a crew system at the ACCs, but that staffing flexibility is not necessarily available at the smaller centres.”
To safeguard against this possibility, Nav Canada is in the midst of industry consultations and talks with Transport Canada to implement temporary service reductions, a path taken by other ANSPs.
These reductions would be in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time, at certain sites serviced by a flight service station (FSS) or air traffic control (ATC) tower. This format will enable Nav Canada to put night shift personnel on reserve, so they can take over for the day shift if they become ill.
McGonigal said Nav Canada has actively collaborated with industry through this process. While the list of sites that were initially being considered was much greater, in-depth safety analysis and consideration for industry needs has reduced the number of airports being affected by this policy.
Transport Canada has indicated that the ANSP can advise operators of these “temporary midnight service changes” via NOTAMs (notices to airmen). Nav Canada also intends to send an Advisory Letter to stakeholders prior to implementation. Each airport will roll out the temporary measures as their individual circumstances permit over the coming weeks, noted McGonigal.
Kellar pointed out that these adjustments reflect the exceptional circumstances presented by COVID-19. In addition to efforts to ensure service resiliency, he added that Nav Canada is focused on implementing strategies to reduce “what is normally a solid fixed-cost business for the next few years.”
For more information on these temporary service level changes, visit the Nav Canada press release.