Nav Canada, the non-profit body that runs the country's civil air navigation service, is currently reviewing seven airport towers in small Canadian cities, including Sault Ste. Marie.
Others under review are those located in St-Jean, Que.; Windsor, Ont.; Regina, Sask.; Fort McMurray, Alta.; Prince George, B.C.; and Whitehorse, Yukon.
At the heart of each review is whether air traffic at the airports warrants having a control tower as opposed to an advisory service for pilots, reports the Canadian Press.
In a Terms of Reference (TOR) issued in November of last year, Nav Canada explained that "the total annual aircraft movements have ranged from 55,225 to 65,228. These movements are either below or are at the lower levels of the established guidelines for the provision of Airport Control Services based on the Nav Canada Policy Delivery of Air Navigation Services."
"We have to operate the right service, at the right place, at the right time," Jonathan Bagg, Nav Canada's director of stakeholder and industry relations, told the Canadian Press. "The COVID-19 pandemic does give us additional stimulus because of the financial environment; however, the studies are warranted regardless of COVID-19."
The aeronautical study to review air traffic service and aviation weather requirements at the Sault Airport is expected to be presented to Transport Canada for safety review this spring.
“A strong system of airports is essential to supporting recovery from COVID-19 for our travel and tourism sector, as well as our trade-based regional and national economies,” Terry Bos, the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation's president and CEO, said in a news release issued on Feb. 9. “Canada’s airports and our air sector partners want to play a leading role in this recovery but may not be able to effectively do so without intervention by government.”
Earlier this month, the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation reported record low passenger levels.
Passenger traffic dropped by more than 89 per cent in January from the previous year.
Also in January of this year, the airport announced a 41 per cent reduction in staff as flights were cut due to the ongoing pandemic.
Today, the Canadian Press reports that aviation is among the hardest hit industries as federal travel restrictions continue and public health officials discourage travelling.