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But airline won't revive Thompson stopover

First Air to reinstate Rankin-Winnipeg flights

By CHRIS WINDEYER

First Air's much-mourned jet service between Rankin Inlet and Winnipeg is back in business.

The airline announced this past Monday it will resume jet flight service, with trips Monday to Friday direct to Winnipeg, starting March 2.

"We've been looking at ways to get the passenger service back into Rankin," said Chris Ferris, First Air's vice president of marketing and sales.

When First Air announced the cancellation of the flight between Winnipeg, Thompson, MB and Rankin, the company called the decision a "no-brainer" in light of the loss of lucrative medical travel contracts with the Government of Nunavut.

Lorne Kusugak, then the mayor of Rankin Inlet, called it "a hard pill to swallow."

"It's going to put us in a real bottleneck because it will take five hours to get to Winnipeg," he said at the time. "It's our main way of going down south. When we're going on holidays we go First Air down south."

Kusugak is now the GN's community and government services minister. A phone message to John Hickes, the current mayor of Rankin Inlet, wasn't returned by deadline.

Ferris said the airline is going to try to turn a profit on the route by relying on passengers, mail and freight. Eliminating the Thompson stop and cutting back to five flights per week from six will also help lower costs, he said.

"There hasn't been any change in the medical travel [contract]," Ferris said. "In a sense we're having to go it alone."

Cutting out the Thompson stop also reduces the flight time to a little more than two hours, he said.

Ferris also downplayed the impact the recession could have on the Rankin-Winnipeg route, though he admitted the airline has seen a slowdown in traffic on some of its Northern routes.

"The Kivalliq region maybe hasn't been as hit as some other regions," he said. "We are still seeing some resource activity in that area. There is still government activity at the federal and territorial level and there does seem to be a healthy amount of business activity."

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