'It is going to position us very well to be much more aggressive and much more successful.'
Kitikmeot gets airline choice
Kitikmeot air travellers will get another airline to choose from starting June 3, when Canadian North launches a new scheduled service that will connect residents in all five communities to Yellowknife.
The airline will use three small Dash 8-100 prop-jet aircraft to operate the routes. Those aircraft, equipped with moveable bulkheads to allow different passenger-freight configurations, will start off with 21 passenger seats and space for about 3,000 pounds of cargo.
They're also equipped with washrooms, galleys capable of handling hot food and wide cargo doors to allow big items like snowmobiles and four-wheelers to be loaded on board.
"It's a really nice aircraft. It's well-suited for this size of market," said Kelly Kaylo, Canadian North's vice-president of marketing and sales.
The new service will connect Kugaaruk, Taloyoak, Kugluktuk and Gjoa Haven to Yellowknife through Cambridge Bay.
"It's just been a natural progression for us as 100 per cent Inuit- and Inuvialuit-owned to expand our network to include more northern communities," Kaylo said.
Kaylo says the airline's schedule will create next-day connections to Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and Ottawa for all Kitikmeot residents. She says that's a big improvement over what's available now to Kitikmeot travellers, many of whom face two-day layovers in Yellowknife before they're able to get connecting flights.
"It's not direct service to Iqaluit, but it's certainly the shortest route now possible," Kaylo said.
On Jan. 1, Unaalik Aviation, a small Inuit-owned airline, suspended a scheduled service that ran between Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Kugarruk and Cambridge Bay in a joint venture with Kenn Borek Airways.
At the time, Unaalik's president, Jim Onalik, said the loss of a freight contract with Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. put Unaalik in a position where they found themselves losing "substantial amounts of money."
The Unaalik pull-out left First Air as the only airline offering scheduled service to most of the region's communities.
But Kaylo says that's only one of several reasons for Canadian North's decision to start the new service.
She said that for Norterra, the Inuit and Inuvialuit holding company that owns Canadian North, the idea of serving smaller communities with smaller planes has always been part of their plan.
"It was always their intention that they would expand service into many more of the northern communities than what was currently available at that time," Kaylo said.
And it allows the airline to better compete for freight contracts.
"Certainly with this expanded service into these communities, it is going to position us very well to be much more aggressive and much more successful in securing some of those larger freight contracts, in particular food mail," Kaylo said.
Canadian North will kick off the service by offering customers a 50-per-cent-off introductory air fare for flights between June 3 and June 24, if they're booked before April 30.
Its parent company, Norterra, is owned 50 per cent by the Inuit of Nunavut and 50 per cent by the Inuvialuit of the western Arctic.