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YVR facing critical control tower shortages amid Canada-wide air safety concerns


Vancouver International Airport’s air traffic control centre is facing one of the worst staffing shortages in the country amid several signs of deteriorating safety.

These issues are in the spotlight once again as the aviation community and travelling public watch the unfolding investigation into a fatal runway collision in Tokyo, Japan. 

Control towers contain considerable state-of-the-art technology, but are still reliant on highly-trained personnel to staff them and ensure safe operations of aircraft.

“Having people up there with their eyes out the window is one of the most important defences that we have,” explained Nick Von Shoenberg, president of the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Association.

YVR is one of the busiest airports in the country and Von Shoenberg says it’s also facing one of the tightest staffing shortages in the country. On Christmas Eve, there were so few staff in the control tower, flights were delayed as air traffic was throttled.

“From a safety perspective, if we don't have enough people, there will be restrictions and delays,” he warned. “We won't compromise safety to keep planes moving.”

There are troubling signs that safety is already at risk. Last month, an international watchdog downgraded Canada from an A+ to a C after major drops in the safety categories of aircraft operations, airports, and air navigation.

In their “Watchlist 2022: Key Safety Issues in Canada’s Transportation System” report, the Transportation Safety Board revealed that the rate of runway incursions, when a vehicle or plane enters an active runway without authorization, had doubled in 12 years.

There have been numerous delays this year due to NAV Canada staffing shortages at YVR, which are likely to continue during peak periods if more air traffic controllers aren’t recruited soon; training to work at YVR in particular, can take twice as long as other Canadian airports due to its unique characteristics. 

“Cost of living definitely plays into it,” said Von Shoenberg, who described both Toronto and Vancouver as particularly challenged to attract new controllers. Top Stories

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