Nunavik airline to go for charters and new Hudson Bay route

Air Inuit gets into the jet travel business


QUAQTAQ – A scale model of an Air Inuit Boeing 737 sparked a lot of interest from delegates when it was passed around at Makivik Corp.'s annual general meeting in Quaqtaq earlier this month.

Air Inuit, better known for its fleet of Dash-8s, sturdy Twin Otters and Hawker-Siddley 748s, now plans to enter the jet market.

Air Inuit negotiated the purchase last year of two Boeing 737-200s from Dolphin Air, a charter airline based in Dubai.

The jets cost about $2.5 million each to purchase, not counting the cost of overhauling them.

Air Inuit plans to start jet service to Puvirnituq as soon as the community's airport runway is extended to about 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), sometime late in 2009.

But the airline's first jet will be in operation as early as this July, and Air Inuit has already posted job advertisements for experienced jet pilots.

Until the Puvirnituq airport meets jet traffic standards, Air Inuit's jets will be available for charters to other regions – including Nunavut.

"It's no secret, we're being called for charters way out of our usual operating territory, often right in the middle of other companies' territory," said a recent entry from an unidentified Air Inuit pilot on an internet chat room called

Air Inuit may also provide charter service to mining companies such as Xstrata or Canadian Royalties.

The Donaldson airport, 22 kilometres from Xstrata's Raglan main and near the proposed site of Canadian Royalties' Nunavik nickel mine, already accommodates 737 jets. Xstrata already operates three 737 flights a week to Donaldson from southern Quebec.

Air Inuit's two new jets, combi-freighters with special cargo doors, seat between 34 and 112 passengers. The aircraft carry a maximum of about 12,000 kilos (28,000 pounds) of cargo, as well as other combinations of cargo and passengers.

Both jets are equipped to land on gravel – as long as an airport runway is long enough.

Quebec has promised to contribute $8 million towards the $20 million cost of extending Puvirnituq's runway. A $1 million extension of the runway apron is planned for this summer.

But the complete expansion project would involve a more costly runway extension and construction of a new terminal building and a hangar.

The balance of the money needed for the airport overhaul is expected to come from the federal airport capital infrastructure program – an expectation that Nunavik leaders emphasized to Prime Minister Stephen Harper March 28 when he was in Kuujjuaq to open this community's new airport.

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