Nav Canada changes debated
Fee rises, job losses and safer skies at issue

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

INUVIK(Jul 31/98) - Changes to Nav Canada service delivery could mean job loss in Inuvik.

"Maybe, maybe not, that remains to be seen," Nav Canada operational requirements and service level manager Don Henderson said of the possible Inuvik job loss as a result of pre-flight and in-flight communication work centralized in Yellowknife.

Nav Canada executed its first phase of service delivery changes March 1.

Now, the not-for-profit company is holding meetings throughout the North in advance of Nov. 1 when its second phase of changes commence. Also on Nov. 1, the federal government will eliminate the Air Transportation Tax to finalize the privatization of air navigation started in 1996.

Henderson is quick to stress benefits to the North from privatization, such as a $3 million investment and 50 new jobs. Though, he admits that 40 different jobs will leave the North for the rest of Canada, creating a net total gain of 10 jobs. And Inuvik will not see any of the $3 million.

"Where we're creating jobs is where we're adding community aerodrome radio stations (CARS) or converting to CARS and that's not going to happen in Inuvik," he said.

"Inuvik is going to retain flight services specialists to provide advisory service."

Still, the consolidation of pre-flight and in-flight communication to Yellowknife, for such tasks as collecting, analyzing, and disseminating weather briefings, means fewer working hours at the Inuvik airport.

Meanwhile, Mayor George Roach's main aviation concern is new fees.

Cargo freight is being charged for the first time as of March 1 even though Nav Canada has dropped the passenger fee rate by about one seventh.

"Small airlines are going to be killed by this," Roach said.

"This may help people in Toronto but not in the North."

Northern flights often arrive with cargo only to return empty. And fees are now charged each way on potential cargo space, not occupied cargo space.

The result is that even though privatization means lopping $100 million off total direct user charges (from $700 million to $600 million), the costs incurred by Northern carriers will increase by about $10 million.

"If that means an extra $100 bucks (per flight), I'm not sure people will take their families out (for vacations)," Roach said.

If fewer Northerners fly as a result, increasingly empty seats will mean ever-increasing costs for those who do fly -- and for cargo.

As a private corporation, Nav Canada is free to establish its own levels of user charges as long as the charges are consistent with the principles set out in the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act.

That Act includes a clause stating that charges must not be higher for remote and Northern services than charges for similar services "utilized to a similar extent" elsewhere in Canada.

Roach wrote to Minister of Transport David Collenette July 16 to inform him that many Northern communities have no alternative to planes for travel or freight.

"What southern residents of Canada take for granted (such as a glass of milk) should not be a luxury for residents in the northern part of the same country," he wrote.