SAULT STE. MARIE -- Sault Ste. Marie's airport could soon see its air traffic control service altered or removed.

NAV Canada, the non-profit organization in charge of operating towers at airports across the country, has launched an assessment to see if continuing service is warranted.

"That could result in reduced hours or a switch to an advisory service," said Terry Bos, CEO of the Sault's airport.

Bos said an advisory service would be less than ideal for the airport, making landing and taking off much more challenging.

"That's more like if you're driving around and you hit a yield sign, you determine what you're going to do and you go," he said. "So the controller tells people what to do, the advisor just basically gives them advice and they have to kind of figure it out amongst themselves."

Nav Canada said in the case of Sault Ste. Marie's airport, its threshold of yearly movements or flights is around 60,000. While the ongoing pandemic has definitely impacted that number, a spokesperson for the organization said the review is based upon years of collecting data.

"What I can say about the relationship to COVID-19 is that I would say the lower traffic environment and the reduced revenue environment has given us stimulus to ensure that we are offering the right services across the country," said Jonathan Bagg with NAV Canada. "We did look at traffic trends prior to COVID-19 in this instance."

According to Terry Bos, around 70 per cent of the airport's volume comes from Sault College's aviation program, instead of commercial flights.

"The safety is a significant concern of ours," said David Orazietti, Dean of Aviation, Trades and Technology. "Given that we have an environment where we're teaching young people how to fly aircraft, control at the tower is very, very important."

Orazietti said he expects the program to grow exponentially, even to the point of meeting the threshold set out by Nav Canada all by itself.

Without air traffic control, he said navigating the sky can be especially difficult in a border city.

"Being along the U.S. border with Sanderson field in Sault, Michigan or Chippewa airport not far away, there's the potential for other interactions and other traffic within the airspace," he said.

NAV Canada expects to wrap up its assessment by the spring. 


Originally written as Navigation Canada, the name of Canada's air navigation service provider has been corrected to NAV Canda.