Canadian North CEO sets sights on a post-pandemic future
But for now, airline’s survival still depends on government subsidies
The president and CEO of Canadian North says that he’s hopeful that the coming COVID-19 vaccinations will see his company’s business pick up in 2021.
But for now, Chris Avery says the only thing keeping the airline aloft is ongoing government subsidies, which the company has received since March.
“COVID has been devastating for airlines around the world,” Avery said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.
“We feel like we’re in the middle of all that right now,” he said, adding he’s optimistic that 2021 will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
With no roads connecting the territory to the rest of Canada, Nunavut depends on airlines to transport passengers as well as food, medicine and other cargo.
With the dramatic drop in air travel due to the pandemic, northern airlines would not be able to provide these essential services without government help, Avery said.
“Our big piece is to maintain the connectivity between all the communities so we keep the routes open,” he said.
Charter flights within Nunavut are also critical to the government’s COVID-19 response. These flights are used to send test swabs from smaller hamlets to labs in Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit, allowing for results to be known between 24 hours and two days, as opposed to five days to a week when Nunavut had to rely on southern labs for test results.
Federal, provincial and territorial governments have subsidized Canadian North and Calm Air since April.
Avery said the Nunavut and Quebec governments understand the importance of airlines to the far North, and the federal government recognizes this, too.
The Government of Nunavut initially used special warrants to authorize up to $24.6 million to subsidize Canadian North and Calm Air.
These airlines accessed about $14 million between April and June. Of that money, about $5 million came from the Government of Canada, with the remaining $9 million coming from the GN, said Dan Carlson, Nunavut’s assistant deputy minister of finance, said in an email.
The GN has agreed to help airlines break even in the face of continued uncertainty between July and December, Carlson said. But this money likely won’t be paid until early 2021, he said.
“In particular, we must wait and see how the Kivalliq COVID cases and related health measures will have impacted airline operations in November and December,” Carlson said.
COVID-19 infections spread through Sanikiluaq and several Kivalliq communities in early November. Arviat remains the only community where people have active infections. Travel restrictions remain in place for the community.
Nunavut has about $10 million left over from funds already approved for the airlines. There’s also $17 million in federal funds available to support airlines for the remainder of 2020.