Nav Canada (NC) is considering closing down their operations at the West Kootenay Regional Airport (WKRA).
The organization is looking at reducing or eliminating services at a number of airports across the country in response to financial pressures.
“The current downturn is forecasted to be much larger and longer than any downturn in the history of our industry,” said NC in a letter to stakeholders.
“Nav Canada is not immune to the economic downturn and severe financial impacts the aviation industry is experiencing.”
Closing NC operations at the WKRA would not mean that the airport would close, just that there would be a lot less information available to pilots and procedural changes would need to be made to compensate.
More than 130 airports across Canada, including the Trail Regional Airport, operate without air traffic control towers or on site Nav Canada services.
At the Castlegar Flight Service Station, Nav Canada provides airport advisory service, ground vehicle control service and a surface weather observation program 12 hours per day when standard time is in effect (fall/winter) and 16 hours per day when daylight saving time is in effect (spring/summer). At other times they also provide an aerodrome traffic frequency and a limited weather information system (LWIS). The LWIS provides wind, temperature, dew point and altimeter, but is not capable of providing ceiling and visibility.
The first step of determining the future of services at the WKRA is an aeronautical study. NC says the study will determine the air traffic service and aviation weather requirements at the airport. It will include formal stakeholder consultation to determine if any issues exist, and mitigation that may be required in the event that changes are implemented.
In preparation for a Nov. 24 meeting with NC, the City of Castlegar is also gathering information from stakeholders such as Air Canada, Central Mountain Air, Southeast Fire Centre, air evacuation services and private pilots.
Mayor Bruno Tassone says the city will take any stakeholder letters of support with them to the meeting to help make the case to keep existing services in place.
Tassone plans to show that there is a need for the flight service station in Castlegar.
“For us, it’s an important safety aspect as far as guiding the aircraft into the airport,” said Tassone.
“It’s a reliability issue and a safety issue.”
Airport manager Patrick Gauvreau says one of the major impacts of a closure would be losing the ability for all parties on the ground and in the air to speak directly to the control tower to coordinate movements.
Maintenance crews and vehicles would have to be equipped with the same type of radios as airplanes. Any operations on the runways or surrounding area would then be reported over the radio to air traffic in the vicinity.
If skies are not clear Gauvreau says pilots would potentially have to do a flyover to assess conditions before making a landing approach.
NC says the review will take into consideration traffic and operational trends that were evident prior to the pandemic and will not solely reflect the current situation.
Air traffic services facility closures are also being considered in High Level, Churchill, Peace River and Lloydminster.
NC expects a decision will be made in February 2021.