March 26, 2020

ATC Zero: How NAV CANADA responded to FAA’s COVID-19 shut down

In the midst of a pandemic came a sobering reminder of the strength of the camaraderie in the aviation industry, supporting one another during trying times. On Saturday, March 21, 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) briefly went ATC zero – meaning non-operational – at New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZNY) after a trainee tested positive for COVID-19. NAV CANADA and others banded together in support.

The FAA suspended all operations at ZNY to protect the health and safety of its employees. All departure flights in New York-area airports were grounded and incoming flights rerouted where possible. “Due to staffing issues at ZNY, please stop all departures to airports within ZNY,” the FAA issued in an Air Traffic Control System Command Center advisory.


For NAV CANADA air traffic controllers, this presented a few challenges – flights headed to ZNY airspace needed to immediately be stopped or rerouted. Meanwhile, the controllers began assessing and mitigating the collateral impact on all flights in the region while they simultaneously began taking responsibility for flights sent back towards Canada.

The key to ensuring safety over and around New York airspace: collaborative decision making – a process that ensures all stakeholder needs are considered before decisions are made. Together, NAV CANADA, the FAA, airlines, airports and other stakeholders collaboratively determine where to implement appropriate traffic management initiatives such as ground stops, delays or reroutes that could be used to minimize impact while upholding safety.

A ground stop order was issued for numerous major airports, including JFK, Laguardia, Philadelphia, Teterboro, Long Island MacArthur, and Newark Liberty International. Operations were subsequently recovered within a few hours, and the ground stops were lifted.

David Lalande, NAV CANADA’ Manager, National Operations Centre expresses that NAV CANADA and its industry counterparts have prepared for such circumstances. “Times like this, our counterparts around the world have always demonstrated strong leadership and teamwork. We rise to the occasion and work together to ensure the safety of our skies.”

Visit NAV CANADA’s COVID-19 Information page to learn more about what we are doing to protect the integrity of Canada’s air navigation services and the health and safety of employees who operate, maintain and support our company.

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