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Labrador MHA concerned about firefighting removal at Wabush airport

Transport Canada is pulling fire fighting services from the Wabush Regional airport in August, citing low passenger volume. - FILE PHOTO
Transport Canada is pulling fire fighting services from the Wabush Regional airport in August, citing low passenger volume. - SaltWire Network File Photo

Transport Canada cites low passenger volume as key factor in decision

WABUSH, N.L. —

Labrador West MHA Jordan Brown sent a letter to Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau on May 25 asking that the minister intervene to stop the removal of firefighting services at the Wabush Regional Airport.

Brown said he’s concerned about the safety of the people who use the airport and the firefighters from Wabush and Labrador City that would have to respond to fires there.

“Airports are very busy, even in these strange and concerning times,” he said. “If something happens at the airport, who is going to be there to respond? Nobody.”

His voice is one of many in the region who are concerned about the removal of the service, which the region had to fight for in 2012, including Wabush mayor Ron Barron and the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE) that represents the firefighters there.

Labrador West MHA Jordan Brown said he's concerned the removal of the fire fighting services puts people at risk. - FILE PHOTO
Labrador West MHA Jordan Brown said he's concerned the removal of the fire fighting services puts people at risk. - FILE PHOTO

Transport Canada (TC) made the decision to pull firefighting services from the airport earlier this year, with Aug. 8 as the final date of the contract. Barron told SaltWire in a past interview they would not be sending firefighters to respond to fires at the airport, with safety cited as the main reasons. Brown agrees.

“I would never dream of putting untrained volunteer firefighters into a situation they aren’t trained for,” Brown said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Brown was a volunteer firefighter for five years and said his concern is that the firefighters would go anyway, since that’s the type of people they are.

TC said they are reviewing various options with the local municipalities for fire service and that following the ending of the contract in august the Wabush Airport will continue to operate in compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements.

The federal government department told the SaltWire Network the decision was based on passenger volume and that Wabush Airport did not meet the threshold for the requirement of firefighting services.

TC said in a statement that passenger volume numbers are reviewed every year once the data is available from the Electronic collection of air transportations statistics (ECATS) system, a database owned and managed by TC and Statistics Canada. They said air carriers have an obligation to submit various figures at prescribed times, including the number of passengers, into this database.

“Safety and security is Transport Canada’s top priority,” the statement read. “Transport Canada uses the latest data available in ECATs to make its decision so that the safety of the transportation system users is never compromised in any way.”


“If something happens at the airport, who is going to be there to respond? Nobody.” — Jordan Brown


Brown is concerned that the data TC is using is from a couple of years ago and doesn’t reflect the reality of the traffic that goes through the airport since the price of iron ore rebounded.

“They’re not using current data for this very vital decision about aircraft firefighting and crash response,” he said. “They’re using data from a few years ago when the price of iron ore was low since then it’s come back up and the activity in the region reflects that.”

He referenced a number of mining projects in the region that have increased productivity in the last few years and all the workers they fly in and out.

Brown said in his letter to Garneau that a study should be undertaken on traffic at the airport once the COVID-19 restrictions end.

“I ask for a fair and open process that takes community and industry into considerations,” he wrote.

SaltWire asked Transport Canada what specific years are being used to make the decision but did not receive a reply as of press time.

Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for SaltWire Network.


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