Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut July 05, 2011 - 5:00 pm

Iqaluit flyers say they’ll miss Air Canada

“Their operation was, apparently, come and go”

SARAH ROGERS
Customers check-in at Air Canada’s counter in Iqaluit’s airport this past weekend. As of August 1, the airline will drop its Iqaluit-Ottawa-Montreal non-stop jet service, a year and four months after it first launched. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Customers check-in at Air Canada’s counter in Iqaluit’s airport this past weekend. As of August 1, the airline will drop its Iqaluit-Ottawa-Montreal non-stop jet service, a year and four months after it first launched. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Air Canada’s foray into Iqaluit’s airline market may have been brief, but many Iqaluit residents say they’re sad to see the carrier go.

Nunatsiaq Online reported July 4 that Air Canada will drop its Iqaluit-Ottawa-Montreal non-stop jet service Aug. 1.

Some say the airline, which launched its service in March 2010, helped drive down the cost of travelling to the South and offered more options to Nunavut flyers.

Iqaluit resident Mel Smith says Nunavut’s airline market needs to “open up.”

“It’s the only way the costs will go down,” he said. “People will fly more often if the price is right.”

But southern-based airlines “aren’t willing to pay the cost” of investing in northern air routes, Smith said.

An Air Canada spokeswoman confirmed the Iqaluit route did not meet Air Canada’s “profitability targets,” but wouldn’t disclose specifics.

In a comment to a July 4 story on Nunatsiaq Online, a commenter identified as “Iqalummiut” said Air Canada’s route initially helped lower the price of flying Canadian North or First Air – the only two other airlines that service Iqaluit and Ottawa.

“Air Canada, we will miss your competition,” the comment said, “2010 and 2011 was the first time I have been able to afford to go out on vacation with my family more than once a year. I am not a rich bureaucrat.”

Iqalummiut was referring to a remark made by South Baffin MLA Fred Schell who, commenting on the airline’s northern launch in 2010, criticized the new link and said it would only benefit wealthy flyers.

Today, Schell said he’s not surprised to hear the airline is pulling out just over a year later.

“We knew that [Air Canada] had no infrastructure here and they were just testing the new route out,” he said in an interview from Cape Dorset. “And it didn’t pan out.”

Schell said he made a point never to fly Air Canada’s Iqaluit-Ottawa route.

He said he doesn’t object to a free market, but that Air Canada was never invested in the new route anyway.

Many of its seats were paid with Aeroplan points, Schell said — which offered little in the way of revenue for the airline.

“Meanwhile, the other two carriers lost revenue on seats and upped their cargo rates,” he said. “In the end, we paid for that in the North.”

But Iqaluit taxi driver Alan Hetherington said that Air Canada is no different than other businesses that have come to the North only to leave soon afterwards — and that little will change.

“Their operation was, apparently, come and go,” he said.

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