Gravel runway could lead to bumpy ride for Cambridge Bay, officials worry

Kugluktuk, though, sees benefits as both communities plan for airport service change from jets to smaller planes

With Canadian North retiring the last of the Boeing 737-200 jets on April 1, 2023, Cambridge Bay council and business community are bracing for a bumpy ride with passenger and freight volumes impacted. (Photo by Jane George)

By Andrea Sakiyama Kennedy

Updated on Friday, Dec. 9, at 10:52 a.m.

Two Nunavut communities that are set to lose jet service next year are taking different approaches to the change.

Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk will be serviced by ATR 42-500 propeller planes next spring because Canadian North announced it is retiring its last aging Boeing 737-200 jet on April 1, 2023. Both communities have gravel runways at their airports and the 737-200 was capable of landing on that surface.

Kugluktuk Mayor Simon Kuliktana said in an interview Thursday that while the community is disappointed to lose jet service, it welcomes the move to ATR prop planes for their reliability in landing during bad weather.

In Cambridge Bay, however, business and elected leaders are concerned about the change in service’s potential impact on economic growth and development.

Mayor Derek Elias said in an interview Thursday he blamed the loss of jet service on Cambridge Bay’s airport infrastructure, specifically its gravel runway.

In April 2021, Canadian North cited the age of its two Boeing-737-200s and the commuinities’ gravel runways as reasons for its decision. The first jet was retired from service in May 2021.

Funding for airport infrastructure and maintenance comes from the Government of Nunavut. Elias said lobbying to secure money to pave the runway has been a priority for him since he joined council in 2019.

“If you look at Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, they are the only two communities in Nunavut that have paved runways,” he said.

“In my opinion, as a regional hub for Cambridge Bay, we should be getting a fair shake at getting airport improvements.”

The Boeing 737-200 jet can carry close to 120 passengers. By comparison, the smaller ATR 42-500 can hold about 50 passengers and is suited to safely land on gravel runways.

Canadian North spokesperson Annie Thomlinson said  the change will mean reliable passenger service and “increased freshness for grocery items” delivered.

“The ATR 72-500s have a proven track record of performance and reliability in extreme environments” and have been used across Canadian North’s network, she said in an emailed statement.

The airline “anticipates no change in the volume of cargo or passengers from the region compared to the 737-200 jet service” for daily service “and the ability to increase frequency to match any seasonal demand for cargo capacity.”

Thomlinson did not respond when asked if ticket prices and cargo rates would not rise after the change in service, as Canadian North had said a year ago.

The business community is also looking for progress in paving the runway, said Cambridge Bay businessman Wilford Wilcox, president of the Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce in an interview.

Businesses have been trying to adjust to the upcoming change in air service, but there’s concern about reduced cargo volumes and the potential ripple effect of increased prices or, worse yet, limited or no stock being shipped, he said.

“You need to have an appropriate level of inventory in a community like this,” said Wilcox.

Freight will be an issue, but passenger service is also important, he said, referring to residents who travel for medical trips or work and tourists wanting to visit the area.

Cambridge Bay is a hub for health-care service and business, is home to the Canadian High Arctic Research and is a transportation centre for air and shipping.

Elias said given Cambridge Bay’s role as a centre of service for the western part of Kitikmeot region, infrastructure investment needs to keep pace with industry standards and demand.

“We are Canadians. We live in Canadian communities, and we should have the same opportunities to have safe airports,” he said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct first name of Cambridge Bay Mayor Derek Elias.

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(24) Comments:

  1. Posted by John WP Murphy on

    Porter airlines are I the process of purchasing 50 yes 50 new jets.

    Perhaps the GN/GNWT may want to consider talking to them about serving the north

    • Posted by Up Here on

      Porter is purchasing narrow body Embraer, totally unsuited for cargo and passengers with considerable baggage. They are much costlier to run and service than a turboprop.

      • Posted by John WP Murphy on

        Thanks for that info

    • Posted by Northerner on

      Didn t Air Canada try flights to YFB , but everybody had a fussy fit, so they gave up.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Porter will never fly into the north and would especially avoid any destination that still had gravel runways.

  2. Posted by Umingmak on

    The mayor’s name is Derek Elias, not David. The GN only cares about the Qikiqtaaluq, and they like to pretend that the Kitikmeot doesn’t exist. It’s sad. The Kitikmeot would’ve been better off remaining part of the NWT.

    • Posted by Buncha whiners on

      Lol, Cambridge Bay is butthurt not to be getting its fair share. Meanwhile they just a few years ago had the size of their airport doubled and major runway and apron improvements. Try living in the other 4 Kitikmeot communities and you will see what it feels like to be forgotten and ignored. Cambridge Bay was also awarded the continuing care Center for the region despite Kugluktuk having invested over a million dollars in the project. Cry me a freaking River.

      • Posted by Umingmak on

        Cambridge Bay is the regional hub and most important community in the region. It absolutely should have the best infrastructure. Taloyoak just got a new airport. Kugaaruk just got a new school. Gjoa Haven just had major school improvements and major tourism investments. Kugluktuk has great recreational facilities and is getting a new power plant. Cambridge Bay should get a paved runway and proper funding for a rec centre.

        • Posted by Self important on

          Most important in the eyes of whom? The only difference between CB and the other Kit communities is the enormous difference in government funds that it receives.

    • Posted by Amarok on

      The difference between the Qikiqtaaluk region and Kitikmeot is better planning, putting in the work and lobbying, you can’t expect to say “oh Iqaluit and Rankin has paved runways we should too” it doesn’t work that way, you are competing for a pot of money and competition is very tough, lots of needs in Nunavut.
      You have to build a case, put lots and lots of work into building your case, lobby and get it done.
      Just wanting something just because will not happen.
      This region needs to learn this, always crying about being left out is getting old, pull up your socks and get at it.

  3. Posted by Confused on

    Well at least hunting will be a lot easier.

  4. Posted by Not the transportation hub on

    Unlike Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay is not the transportation hub for the region. It may the government services hub, but there is no staging of cargo there for the other communities, nor are medevac planes positioned there. With the exception of very few procedures, mainly imaging services, it is also not the health care hub for the Kitikmeot. For most things the Kitikmeot hub is still Yellowknife, and that is not going to change. Rankin Inlet has about 40 plane movements per day, Iqaluit has about 50. How many does Cambridge Bay have on average? The investment required to pave the runway is not justified.

    • Posted by TundraTom on

      “…, nor are medevac planes positioned there…”

      That might come as a surprise to the plane and crew stationed here.

      How is Yellowknife, NT considered a hub for a Nunavut community?!?

      • Posted by Not the transportation hub on

        Why then are the medevac planes that service the other 4 Kitikmeot communities always inbound from Yellowknife?

        If you are confused as to how Yellowknife can be a hub for Kitikmeot communities I suggest you do some research on the importance of transportation corridors.

        • Posted by Northern Inuit on

          the Medevac flights are being serviced from Yellowknife because the GN lets Kivalliq Air get away with it.

          there is supposed to be a Jet Aircraft based in Cambridge Bay along with a turbo prop on standby. in the years since they have had the contract, probably 75% of all flights originate from Yellowknife. now if you have a serious enough medical emergency, it’s crucial to get to a hospital immediately.

          1 hour minimum to get the Crew in Yellowknife mobilized, 2 hour flight to Cambridge or Gjoa, 2.5 to Taloyoak and 3 hours to Kugaaruk then fly back to YK. it’s not good. it’s amazing how little the GN MLA’s, Deputy Premier or anyone for that matter say to Kivalliq Air.

    • Posted by It is a Hub on

      Have you considered that Cambridge Bay could be a proper transportation hub with the right investments? No flight goes to Kugluktuk, Taloyoak, Kugaaruk, or Gjoa Haven without also landing in Cambridge Bay.
      You’re basically saying that the hub is in a different territory and you’d like to keep it that way. Wow, let’s just forget about progress and investing in infrastructure.

  5. Posted by Nadia on

    I don’t know what this fixation about losing an antique jet is all about.

    It’s past time that 737 dinosaur is retired. The ATR, though not much newer than the jet, is a comfortable, safer and more efficient aircraft.

    Cost/benefit does not support the huge cost of paving runways in small arctic communities.

    • Posted by Smarmy on

      Short answer – loss of status for Cambridge Bay and it’s pretentious elite.

    • Posted by Umingmak on

      The ATR is far too small and slow to meet the requirements. Cargo rates will go up. Flight costs will go up. Cambridge Bay deserves MUCH better.

      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        CambrIdge Bay deserves much better based on what metric exactly? A sense of entitlement and self importance?

        • Posted by Precisely, Northern Guy on

          You nailed it Northern Guy. 100% correct.

  6. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    Every MLA Candidate for the last 20 years promised a paved runway.

    You know how much more maintenance a paved runway takes? The GN can barely get a contractor competent enough to push snow and the airport road and runway are in the worst chose in 20 years! Every medical travel patient who is forced to endure the milk run sees other communities have a half decent smooth runway. This bunch could barely keep up now let alone have to worry about pavement.

    The ATR 72 is newer, more reliable and only 15 minutes slower to Yellowknife. More fuel efficient too. Let the Airlines run their business.

  7. Posted by Old timer on

    Will come to rest of nunavut were eventing is behind back to the 70 80 lol

  8. Posted by Frankly on

    Gone are the days when everyone would get drunk on a dc3 and then rush out of the plane when it lands like there is no tomorrow when they arrive to the city for more drinks in the airport lounges .hot meals,drinks and even smoke cigarettes freely inside the plane while on route to wherever happiness brings !


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