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Nav Canada, the country’s air traffic controller, has cut 720 jobs and is reviewing its operations at several cities due to the collapse in aviation.

Nav Canada said it will close flight information centres in Winnipeg and Halifax and monitor air traffic levels at all airports for possible further reductions as it slashes costs and services.

The job reductions amount to 14 per cent of its pre-pandemic work force of 5,100 people across the country, including early retirements and the elimination of temporary positions. All departments are affected, including student trainees.

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Neil Wilson, chief executive officer of Nav Canada, said the non-profit company is facing the “toughest moment in its history.

“Nav Canada is not immune to the economic downturn and severe financial impacts the aviation industry is experiencing,” he said in a statement.

The closing Winnipeg and Halifax centres provide pilots and dispatchers with information on flight planning and weather data. These services will be available from the other five information centres, said Brian Boudreau, a spokesman for Nav Canada, which is reviewing services at several other small and medium-sized places, including Fort McMurray, Alta., Sydney, N.S., and Saint-Jean, Que.

Nav Canada is a private, non-profit corporation that runs on fees it charges operators of aircraft. It guides civilian air traffic through more than 18 million square kilometres of airspace, both Canadian and oceanic.

Nav Canada said August civilian aircraft traffic in its territory – including the North Atlantic and overflight – was about half that of the same month a year earlier.

Canadian airlines suspended much of their schedules as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March. Governments issued stay-home advisories, closed borders and imposed quarantines on travellers as part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Most Canadian airlines resumed services in the summer, although Air Canada is flying at about half its usual frequency in September. Toronto’s Porter Airlines has yet to resume flying. Canada’s borders remain closed to most people, and travellers are required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return – measures the airline industry complains have deepened the industry’s job losses and financial crisis.

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There will be no changes to operations at the Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, spokesman Tyler MacAfee said. The drop in demand for air travel has driven down passenger volume at the Winnipeg airport to a couple thousand people a day, at most, from 13,000 a day, Mr. MacAfee said. “It’s going to be a long climb back.”

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