Local leaders join forces to stop removal of Windsor's air traffic control

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Windsor Star/Trevor Wilhelm




A group of local political and business leaders have joined forces to drive home the point to Nav Canada that removing Windsor’s air traffic control isn’t going to fly.

MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh) arranged a meeting Monday to make their case.

“This was an opportunity for us to really demonstrate that we really are united as a community in our opposition to any reduction in air traffic control service,” said Kusmierczyk. “We wanted the folks at Nav Canada to hear our concerns, both from a safety perspective but also from an economic perspective.”

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara were at the meeting with Nav Canada officials. So were representatives of the airport, the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, Port Windsor, the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and Green Shield Canada, which has a headquarters in the region.

NAV Canada, the independent privately run company that owns and operates the country’s civil air navigation system, recently added Windsor to a list of airports under review. They are considering shutting down Windsor International Airport’s air traffic control tower.

Nav Canada recently told the Star that Windsor’s airport was put on the review list because of “long-term air traffic levels, including prior to the pandemic.”

Kusmierczyk said Nav Canada makes its assessments based on traffic “movements,” or how many planes go in and out. Windsor has about 44,000 movements, he said. Normally, air traffic control services are only provided at airports with 60,000 movements.

But there is another reason Windsor should have the tower, said Kusmierczyk.

“What makes Windsor unique is the fact that we have a complex air space,” he said. “Airports, whether it’s Red Deer or St. John’s or Fort McMurray, they are not right next door to a major transportation hub like Detroit Metro Airport. So the complexity of the airspace here is really what we want to drive home and where we feel the safety concerns are emphasized.”

Besides that, he said, the traffic at Windsor’s airport has had huge growth over the last several years.

“Since 2008, we’ve had an increase of about 300 per cent in passenger traffic,” said Kusmierczyk.

More than 300,000 people a year use the airport, he said.

Any service changes resulting from the studies must be submitted to Transport Canada “for concurrence.” Kusmierczyk said Transport Canada will assess the recommendations based solely on safety. Other concerns, such as economics, are not considered.

NavCanada will start consultations in January. Recommendations will likely go to Transport Canada in April or May. But Kusmierczyk is hoping that with some community effort, Transport Canada won’t have a decision to make.

“Everyone that I’ve talked to here in our community is opposed to any reduction in air traffic control,” he said.

They all share two main concerns, said Kusmierczyk. The first is safety, given that “complex” airspace.

Second is the economic devastation removing the control tower could cause.

“The port authority made a really good case about how the airport, the port authority, rail and also land travel and the bridge, it’s all connected,” said Kusmierczyk. “They are all parts and pieces of this gateway. We really are this international gateway. Any reduction in services to one of those aspects is going to have an impact on the others.”