Northern airlines urge federal government to modernize northern runways

‘We might be one of the last countries in the world that is depending this much on gravel runways’: Air Inuit executive

Members of Northern Air Transport Association are seen here meeting with Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal, who is the third person in on the left. Northern Air Transport Association consists of several northern airlines whose representatives are in Ottawa to raise awareness about the need for improved flying conditions in the North, particularly the infrastructure of northern airports. (Photo courtesy of Rosemary Thompson)

By David Lochead

Airports are a lifeline for northern communities and the federal government needs to prioritize them when doling out infrastructure funding, say members of an advocacy group that represents northern airlines.

“A safe and reliable air service across the North is not just a nice-to-have, it’s an essential [need],” said Aaron Speer, vice-president of flight operations for Canadian North.

He spoke to Nunatsiaq News from Ottawa, where he and others in the industry spoke with federal officials, including Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal, about the need to improve airport infrastructure in the North.

Speer chairs the Northern Air Transport Association, known as NATA, a group made of 14 different air services that operate in the North, including Canadian North and Air Inuit.

The federal government has a pool of funding available for improving infrastructure nationwide. But Speer said population is one of the measurements that decides who receives funding, which puts northern Canada and its smaller population base at a disadvantage when it comes to getting money.

One of the major infrastructure issues on the association’s priority list is runways. All of Nunavut’s runways need improvements, with some dating back to the Second World War, according to the association.

“We might be one of the last countries in the world that is depending this much on gravel runways,” said Sebastian Michel, director of flight operations for Air Inuit.

“If there’s no investment in runways, some communities will simply lose [them].”

Gravel runways eventually erode away without intervention. Beyond that, Michel said, not all new aircraft are equipped to operate on gravel runways. If the federal government wants the airline industry to be more eco-friendly, it needs to invest in infrastructure that can accommodate a modernized fleet.

Runway length is also an issue. For example, Pangnirtung’s runway is so short that it limits the type of aircraft that can fly into the community, said Speer.

Association representatives also plan to talk with federal officials about improving lighting systems at airports, as many in the North are basic. That makes it challenging to take off or land in poor weather.

With climate change creating more extreme weather conditions, getting better lighting systems is important, Speer said.

“One of our concerns is that this is not something where you can wait for the problem to occur,” he said.

“We need to be proactive, be ready and have the solutions in place before the current infrastructure is not adequate.”

Another priority for the group while they’re in Ottawa includes finding a way to increase the number of local and Indigenous workers in the northern flying industry.

Currently, much of the training takes place in the south, so NATA representatives are looking to the federal government for help to bring training to the North, Speer said.

Nunatsiaq News reached out to Minister Vandal’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.


Share This Story

(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by Alan Klie on

    I know it’s been said elsewhere that gravel runways are easier to maintain in permafrost environments because they can be smoothed down better than paved runways. I don’t think that necessarily holds true anymore. I think there are methods, techniques and technologies in place that can mitigate permafrost loss or frost heave. Ultimately, runways will need to be paved in order to accommodate more modern aircraft as they are simply not able to handle gravel. No major aircraft manufacturer is producing gravel-specific aircraft because, quite frankly, the market is too small. Most major runways are now paved and even many minor runways. There’s simply no incentive to invest potentially hundreds of millions into developing an aircraft that, while beneficial to a portion of the population, will still be far too small to ever recoup the costs.

    Another issue is maintenance as I believe maintaining a paved runway is more expensive and resource intensive. We just heard that NTI was saying that more needs to be done to employ Inuit so runway maintenance would be an opportunity to do that. Paving is not particularly skilled labour, though there is some skill involved, so I think it would be an easy trade to pick up. It wouldn’t be steady work, necessarily, but worthwhile and probably lucrative when the time comes.

  2. Posted by hermann kliest on

    why not do it yourselves, airlines are the best in add-Ons to their ticket prices. then perhaps both levels of governments could place funds equal to your charges. lately though I have been felling unsafe on my northern travels. Airlines; you have a case but for once put some $$$ into the idea. Covid? How much did you make from GN during two turbulence years? 20? more millions….

  3. Posted by Airship One on

    Maybe it’s time for made-in-Nunavut airships.
    Airships don’t need runways, so no cost to build them and no cost to maintain them.
    It’s an industry with export potential where Nunavut could become a world leader.
    Airships require much less fuel than jet airplanes, so they are better for the environment.
    Airships are slower, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Less stress means better health. On some days the view will be fantastic.

    • Posted by Airship Two on

      Unfortunately, Airships also can’t operate in heavy winds or they’ll get blown about due to their extremely large shapes. And there are very few decently calm days to go riding in a Zepplin.

    • Posted by SARCASM on

      I m still waiting for the flying cars

      • Posted by hermann kliest on

        Elon have not yet invent a flying car SARCASM, you have to wait few more years. Maybe next year. Should be no problem with $$$ because Buffet would probably invest lot of $$ to Elon invention….maybe next year.

  4. Posted by Descartes on

    Alaska has 732,000 people, 172 gravel runways, 47 paved runways, and 22 seaplane bases. Nunavut in comparison has 41,000 people, 27 gravel runways, and 2 paved runways. Alaska has way more air infrastructure than Nunavut, even considering it also has a well developed highway system.

    Public and private investment go hand in hand. More of one leads to more of the other, and vice versa. People pay taxes and wield political power, and people move to where they can make a living.

    There is a limit to what Ottawa will pay for simply because some of its citizens live in particular part of the country. If people do not believe this, ask anyone from northern and rural AB, SK, MB and ON.

    If Nunavut wants more paved runways, the solution is clear. Nunavut needs to develop more, needs to add significant population, and needs massively more economic activity. In order to do this, way more natural resource development needs that occur sufficient to reverse the flow of Nunavut youth to southern Canada.

    Nunavummiut need to connect the dots here. If we do not want to be mere human flagpoles, we need to be something else.

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Descartes, Alaska also receives billions annually in oil revenue, Nunavut does not. It’s easy to invest in community infrastructure when you are literally neck deep in royalty money from oil companies.

  5. Posted by Umingmak on

    With the insane prices that Canadian North charges, they can easily afford to pave all the runways on their own.

    • Posted by MIGA!! on

      Canadian North Does NOT own these runways in Nunavut, They are just using the runways. Canadian North is the airline that services the communities, and it happens to be the only commercial passenger plane.

  6. Posted by Uvanga on

    Every greenland community has paved roads supported by Denmark. Surely nunavut communities with support from the Canadian federal government can get paved airstrip along with paved roads. Ok not road but paved airships. After all billions go out of this county but we as Nunavummiut still get treated like a 3rd world county when we have rich resources to sell that canada benefits from???

    • Posted by Karl on

      In Greenland the municipalities pave their roads, sidewalks and so on, they do this in-house. They don’t contract it out to expensive southern companies to do a short kilometre of paving for millions of dollars.
      Nunavut tenders and contracts way too much for expensive private companies to make their millions for so little.
      Instead of building the local capacity in their government and municipalities. You can see the difference in infrastructure in Greenland and Nunavut or any other Northern Territory in Canada.

  7. Posted by MassFormation on

    No surprise today’s money words “climate change” used to turn on the flow of money for paved runways.

    Or will it?

    Will the climate change beleif turn into an agreeable trap to close airports?

    Soon sustainable aviation fuel will be implemented across Canada. It’s a yeary quota on how much aviation fuel per area can be used.

    This SAF is a special climate change blend of aviation fuel… doubling, tripling fuel, ticket and freight prices.

    Making it impossible to afford food and air travel for meetings, health and vacations. A stealth lockdown under climate change agenda.

    Nunavut will slam airports, hamlets closed in a blink of an eye, making people move to large communities. Iqaluit, Rankin are currently rezoning residential to high density living.


Comments are closed.