Service Reductions at the Northwest Regional Airport have affected medivacs

Hillary Johnson

Public safety concerns have been heightened at the Northwest Regional Airport since three medivac flights were delayed, and one didn't take off as the pilot declined to fly in part due to not having sufficient weather information.

As Airport Manager Carman Hendry explained, when NAV Canada reduced its service effective May 13th, including not staffing night shift operations, it affected the flight service station's ability to provide complete information for pilots that is normally available at all other times of the day.

"On May 13th, NAV Canada implemented the night shift closure for 120 days at 18 airports across Canada, 11 of which are in BC, as part of NAV Canada's action plan for COVID-19. The closure consisted of removing staff from the flight service station for 8 hours beginning from 10 pm to 6 am. Services available electronically through closed hours are minimal, weather stats such as wind speed and direction, air temp, and dew point."

Due to COVID-19 protocols, many participants joined the meeting via conference call, including several Terrace and Kitimat councillors, MP Taylor Bachrach and representatives from the airport and NAV Canada. Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc, among other participants, expressed frustration towards what they perceived to be a failure to provide the same service level for rural areas.

"There is a lot of economic activity here that supports not only B.C. but is supporting Canada. The infrastructure that we have is pertinent to everything rolling the way it needs to, and when we have a gap of air service of almost six and a half hours, now that does not help any of us. We in the northwest, we deserve the same services that the rest of Canada has. From Terrace up to the Yukon border, we are the only airport."

NAV Canada representative Heather McGonigal said they took a national approach when it came to their COVID-19 response plan but explained that they do recognize those provinces with a lower number of COVID cases, having a better potential of soon returning to regular operations.

The hours of operation have recently been adjusted to reduce the unstaffed shift from 11:30 pm to 5:45 am. The temporary staffing adjustment was set for a maximum of 120 days. Still, council was assured by the NAV Canada reps to take the information shared, as well as the feedback from the meeting, for immediate review for staffing reinstatement of the midnight shift.

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