My bride’s family has owned a cottage in Ontario’s Muskoka Lakes region for about a century. Her great, great grandfather built it by hand, and we pretty much visited every summer when the kids were growing up. Our time on the lake was special, always, even when it rained for an entire week. 

Of the many things to like about Canada, we most appreciate its things that remind us we’re not at all in the 51st state. Once you leave the red, white and blue for the fluttering red maple leaf, the miles become kilometers, the ounces grams, the gallons litres. Dunkin’ Donuts disappear, and in their stead are Tim Hortons everywhere. That nanaimo costs one toonie, dear. Bye bye Bud; hello Molsons. What did the Prime Minister have to say? There, sports stars wear skates, power lines deliver “hydro,” the stogies come straight from Havana, and official communications are always bilingual in deference to the citizens of La Belle Province. Stop/Arret!

Aside from oft ending spoken sentences with “eh?” and a national penchant for self-deprecation, the good people of Canada look, sound and act a lot like their southern neighbors. And while Canada and the U.S. are blessedly friendly and historically each other’s top trading partners, the two don’t always see things the same way, which is healthy among friends. It helps one examine positions, gain perspective and consider new approaches. 

These conditions come to mind as Washington again takes up the challenge of reauthorizing the FAA, a process that in recent times has become excruciatingly and nonsensically political. After all, is there really any question that the world’s foremost aviation nation needs an aviation infrastructure and control system that is technologically current, reliable, adaptive, all-accommodating, expandable and safe? Yet, providing that costs money and that’s the main rub, of course. 

Since such a national system is in the national interest, a federal government agency has been charged with its function. Accordingly, funding for the agency has come from federal tax revenue for which there is an enormous amount of competition. Eventually the funding comes through, but the process is interruptive and unpredictable, playing havoc on planning and management. Is there another way? Eh?

In 1996, the government of Canada transferred the country’s air navigation system (ANS) from Transport Canada, a federal entity, to Nav Canada, a new, privately run, not-for-profit corporation. The transfer was watched with keen interest south of the border with dire predictions from many that airlines would take control, that fees would price general and business aviation out of the system, and that the executives would richly reward themselves. 

But according to Rudy Toering, “That’s not the story at all.” Rather, he says, the organization “has turned into a little bit of a jewel for Canada.”

Toering’s opinion matters. After all, he is president and CEO of the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) whose 400 members arguably constitute the leading edge of that community. If things were amiss, he would know. 

Nav Canada’s four founding groups comprise the airlines, the federal government, business and general aviation, and its employees.  All have representatives on the 15 member board of directors — four from the air carriers, three from the government, two from employee unions, four independents, the CEO and one elected through CBAA — who are charged with oversight, including fair treatment for all stakeholders.

In addition, there’s a 20-member advisory committee that makes recommendations to the board. Toering is a member and says he and his fellow committee members “are very much engaged” and “report directly to the board when something is not right or a service is not being provided.” 

Mostly, he says, things are going right. There are annual and operational fees for Nav Canada services, of course, but they are “among the lowest of ANS fees worldwide.” Moreover, he adds, “we haven’t had a rate increase in nine or ten years.”

In addition to managing air traffic, Nav Canada is responsible for the installation and maintenance of navaids. It supports ADS-B in a big way, installing ground stations, and, as is detailed in the “Global ADS-B” feature in this issue (page 22), it holds a 51% stake in Aireon, a for-profit space-based ADS-B service.  Its revenues from that go back into the not-for-profit mother ship.

All considered, Toering says Nav Canada “has achieved a reputation that is unparalleled right now.”

And yet as financing goes, he would much prefer the legacy system used by the U.S. in which federal fuel taxes, not user fees, pay for ATC. He regards it as both fair and simple. Unfortunately, Toering says, Canada’s provincial and federal taxing system wouldn’t accommodate it. 

As the debate heats up on FAA reauthorization, the actual Canadian experience regarding business and general aviation should be part of the deliberations. After all, our northern neighbors have found a way to stabilize the process while apparently satisfying the broad range of users. Something to think about, eh?