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National Airports Policy

The national airports system (NAS)

  • The federal government's National Airports Policy (NAP) provides a framework that clearly defines the federal government's role with airports. That role will be defined through two main levels of federal involvement in airports with scheduled passenger traffic: nationally-significant airports that will form a National Airports System (NAS) and regional/local airports. The NAS comprises 26 airports that link the country from coast to coast and internationally. The NAS includes those airports considered essential to Canada's air transportation system, supporting both domestic prosperity and international competitiveness.

Criteria for the NAS

  • The NAS includes airports in all national, provincial and territorial capitals, as well as airports with annual traffic of 200,000 passengers or more. (See Appendix A). Currently, the 26 NAS airports serve 94 per cent of all scheduled passenger and cargo traffic in Canada and are the points of origin and destination for almost all interprovincial and international air service in Canada.
  • Airports maintaining annual passenger levels of 200,000 for three consecutive years are candidates for inclusion in the NAS. Conversely, airports other than those serving national, provincial or territorial capitals, whose traffic falls below 200,000 passengers for three consecutive years, will no longer be considered part of the NAS.
  • The criteria for NAS airports -- traffic levels and/or location in a national, provincial, or territorial capital -- will be applied in a clear, consistent and equitable fashion.

Significance of the NAS

  • The development of the NAS reflects a commitment on the part of the federal government to the viability of a national system of safe, commercially-oriented and cost-effective airports. While the federal government will guarantee the ongoing viability of the NAS as a whole, this does not necessarily mean its continued direct operation or funding. The government will commercialize the National Airports System through the transfer of responsibility for the operation, management and development of NAS airports to Canadian Airport Authorities (CAAs). Local operation is preferable since it has proven to be more cost-effective, more responsive to local needs and better able to match levels of service to local demands.
  • As a general rule, airports within the NAS will be required to become financially self-sufficient (operating and capital costs) within five years beginning April 1, 1995. For certain NAS airports, it is recognized that undercapitalization in the past or future capital requirements may result in some adjustments to this principle.

Local Operation Of NAS Airports

  • While local operation of NAS airports is the preferred approach, the federal government will retain ownership of these nationally significant airports to guarantee the integrity and long-term viability of the NAS. Ownership is retained through the long-term leasing of airports to CAAs.
  • The federal government has examined the principles under which the previous local airport authorities (LAAs) were created and has revised them in the areas relating to the CAA's accountability to the communities they serve. Agreements with the existing four LAAs will be honoured, and the authorities will be invited to consider the enhanced principles. The new principles address issues such as the appointment of directors, conflict-of-interest requirements and community consultation.
  • CAAs are not-for-profit corporations headed by boards of directors. Those directors are nominated by different levels of government and other participating organizations such as boards of trade and labour organizations. The federal government may also appoint up to three directors. Directors cannot be elected politicians or government employees.
  • CAAs will lease NAS airports from the federal government. Through this commercialization of the NAS airports, each individual NAS airport will be operationally self-sufficient within five years. Collectively, these lease arrangements with CAAs will improve the federal government's financial position.
  • Transport Canada will continue to operate NAS airports until a suitable airport authority assumes responsibility. If the transfers of the Yellowknife and Whitehorse airports are not completed with the governments of the Northwest Territories or Yukon as part of the transfer of Arctic airports program, they may be transferred to CAAs.
  • Starting immediately, the federal government will take steps to move the NAS airports towards self-sufficiency and thereby enhance the viability and attractiveness of these airports to local operators. Details on the steps to be taken are outlined below.

Operational Efficiencies for NAS Airports

  • To make NAS airports attractive to CAAs, the federal government will initiate a number of measures to move each airport toward operational and capital self sufficiency within five years.
  • These measures include adjusting current levels of service to reflect demand and a wider application of existing user fees and charges.
  • Once a local operator assumes responsibility for an NAS airport, there is greater potential to generate commercial opportunities and identify operational efficiencies (e.g. - reduction in overhead costs, timely capital investment, quick response to local commercial initiatives).

Regulatory Amendments

  • The federal government will continue to set safety and security standards for all Canadian airports. The means to accomplish this are already in place and include policy-setting, airport transfer agreements, airport certification or regulation.
  • Regulations will be introduced that will ensure specific levels of emergency response services at qualifying airports.

Satellite Airports

  • Several of the larger international airports within the NAS group are complemented by "satellite" airports. These airports help ensure the safe and efficient operation of the larger international airports they serve by diverting small, general aviation (recreational and training aircraft) away from the larger airport.
  • Initially, these satellites will be included as part of the NAS and will be offered to those airport authorities wishing to assume the operational responsibility of the corresponding satellite airports. These airport authorities must recognize, however, that federal funding to satellite airports will be withdrawn during the next five years. If the airport authority does not wish to assume responsibility for the satellite, the satellite airport will lose its "sub-set" status and other transfer alternatives for that airport will be explored.

Other Transport Canada Services

  • In addition to airport operation, the federal government also provides air navigation services and facilities at Canadian airports. Provision of these services is based on airport traffic volumes, not airport ownership. The federal government is reviewing these services to ensure they match the needs of the local aviation communities while maintaining safety. The government is also consulting with the aviation community and affected parties on the potential for commercializing the air navigation system.
  • Aviation security measures at NAS airports are provided under existing security regulations. These regulations apply to certified airports, regardless of who owns or operates the airport. Regulatory consultation on security regulation is being undertaken by the federal government.