Nunavut municipal leaders blast airline codeshare deal

But Canadian North VP says the money-losing airline had to change to survive

By JANE GEORGE

To attend the Nunavut Association of Municipalities' annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay requires several days of travel on each side of the meeting, says Dorothy Gibbons, the director of finance for the Hamlet of Whale Cove, Oct. 8 at the NAM meeting. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


To attend the Nunavut Association of Municipalities’ annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay requires several days of travel on each side of the meeting, says Dorothy Gibbons, the director of finance for the Hamlet of Whale Cove, Oct. 8 at the NAM meeting. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

(Updated, Oct. 11, 11 a.m.)

CAMBRIDGE BAY — Home for Thanksgiving?

“Hopefully we get home for Thanksgiving to start some cooking and baking at 1 o’clock,” said Dorothy Gibbons, the director of finance for the Hamlet of Whale Cove, during a discussion of scheduled airline service Oct. 8 at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities’ annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay.

Gibbons, who left home Oct. 4 and arrived in Cambridge Bay Oct. 7, said she won’t return to Whale Cove until Oct. 12, Thanksgiving Day — due to the scheduling of connections from Whale Cove to Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay.

Gibbons wasn’t the only NAM delegate to complain that passenger — and cargo — service has deteriorated since the adoption of the codeshare agreement between Canadian North and First Air this past July.

The only moment of humour: when Charlie Inuarak, the mayor of Pond Inlet, suggested that the only way to change airline schedules woould be buying an aircraft from Canadian North.

Others at the NAM meeting told of delayed mail and fresh food deliveries, delays in medical travel and passenger travel for up to three weeks due to a lack of space and added expense — similar to the complaints from delegates at the Kitikmeot Inuit Association’s AGM, which wrapped up Oct. 7.

Codeshare schedule changes are among many moves made by Canadian North to remain competitive, Peter McCart, the airline’s vice president for scheduled service, told NAM delegates, who include mayors, municipal administrators and representatives from 22 Nunavut communities.

McCart told them that 2015 has been a “very, very difficult year” for Canadian North. That prompted the airline to make many necessary changes in how it operates just to stay afloat.

The money-losing airline’s financial challenges included a drop in charter traffic and a decline in the value of the Canadian dollar, which makes airline operations more expensive.

To cope, Canadian North embraced the codeshare deal with First Air, laid off 300 workers, and — to reduce the number of unsold tickets and shave costs — cut flights and switched its jet service to meet the higher-market demands of larger communities like Cambridge Bay.

Many flights were previously incurring “incredibly high losses” by flying with empty seats, McCart said. “Canadian North was losing millions of dollars.”

The goal was “to return Canadian North to a sustainable business.”

That said, McCart acknowledged that many of the schedule changes, such as those that led to fewer connections between Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk, are highly unpopular.

Although he said the North West Co. and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. seem to be happier now with how cargo is moving under the codeshare arrangement.

And McCart promised to revisit the schedule between the two Kitikmeot communities.

As for the delays in medical travel, McCart echoed what health minister Paul Okalik said Oct. 6 at the KIA meeting, that the delays for patients en route to medical care are “unacceptable.”

As it turned out, Gibbons and others from the Kivalliq and Baffin regions would only make home and meet their connecting flights in Yellowknife, only thanks to chartered flights from Cambridge Bay to Yellowknife Oct. 11.

NAM turned to chartering the mayors and SAOs to Yellowknife — at an added expense for the organization — after Canadian North cancelled scheduled flights to Cambridge Bay three days in a row, after a cargo door broke Oct. 9 on a jet.

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