Disruptions to air service aren’t all due to codeshare: Nunavut airlines
“Consolidation in our industry is required”
Officials with Nunavut’s three major airlines admit to glitches with air service across the territory in recent months, but say it’s not the fault of their new codeshare agreement.
First Air and Calm Air began jointly operating in the Kivalliq last July, while First Air and Canadian North together serve the rest of the territory since August as part of a new agreement that allows customers to book with either airline.
But customers say the new agreement has created delays and layovers for flyers, while hampering the delivery of medication supplies and lab samples.
Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and deputy health minister Colleen Stockley have written to the airlines to outline their concerns.
But in correspondence from late September and through the month of October, tabled at the legislative assembly this week, the airlines defend their service.
In an Oct. 22 letter from First Air president Brock Friesen to premier Taptuna, Friesen notes the disruption to its flight service in Nunavut over the summer months, but said it had nothing to do with the codeshare agreement.
In July and August, construction work on Iqaluit’s runway caused a number of cancelled and diverted flights, Friesen said, costing the airline $1 million.
In Pangnirtung, poor weather prevented 40 per cent of the airline’s flights from landing there over a 30-day period in July and August.
Friesen said First Air flew at just 70 per cent capacity in the month of August — the airline’s busiest month — well below the 90 per cent capacity airlines like Air Canada or Westjet operate at during the same month.
Airlines in the North are battling for survival, he said, contending with over-capacity, high operating costs, limited market growth and harsh weather.
“Consolidation in our industry is required,” Friesen wrote in his letter to premier Taptuna.
“We have often said that, in a country where federal government policy mandates a self-sufficient airline industry in all regions, we need to run First Air as a business,” he said.
“A business needs growth and investment in new aircraft and infrastructure. First Air has not been able to do this adequately since 2010.”
Canadian North president Steve Hankirk described the same scenario in an Oct. 2 letter to deputy health minister Stockley, noting that, as codeshare partners, the airlines have worked quickly to resolve initial technical issues with their booking systems.
Canadian North has also responded to customer complaints by recently adding extra service on certain routes.
And despite the financial strains of operating in the North, the codeshare has not introduced any fare increases, nor has it changed the number of seat allocated under Pivut beneficiary fares, Hankirk said.
Responding to concerns about fewer flight options in the Kivalliq, Calm Air told Stockley in an Oct. 30 letter that the number of seats in the region has actually increased since it joined forces with First Air to serve the region.
Since the agreement went into place last July, Calm Air’s vice president of marketing, Sandra Ross-Hitch, said its load factor has been 62 per cent in the Kivalliq region and 57 per cent between Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet.
Transiting the airlines’ hub from Churchill, Manitoba to Rankin Inlet did initially cause growing pains, Ross-Hitch said, but the airlines’ ground handler in Rankin has hired more staff to help ensure cargo and passengers are making their transfers on time.