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Nunavut accelerates Greenland airlink bid

“It would be of great benefit to Inuit of Nunavut and Greenland”

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Nunavut is stepping up its campaign to play host to an air connection between Nuuk and Iqaluit.

Nunavut government officials made their pitch at a high-level meeting with members of Greenland’s home rule government in Iqaluit Feb. 25.

“It’s just the distance separating us,” said Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak. “We have so much in common.”

Right now, getting between Nuuk and Iqaluit requires either a charter flight or a lengthy odyssey with stops in Europe or Iceland and usually at least one more in North America before getting on a Nunavut-bound flight in Ottawa or Montreal.

The Government of Nunavut suggests the route’s core business could consist of workers in Greenland’s nascent oil and gas industry, mine workers and fishing boat crews. Tourists, students and political exchanges would make up the rest.

Kuupik Kleist, Greenland’s premier, supports the resumption of service between Nuuk and Iqaluit, which was cancelled in 2000, but stopped short of endorsing Iqaluit as the best destination for Air Greenland.

The airline, Kleist said, needs to pick the city with the best business case.

“We support the reopening of a [scheduled] route between Greenland and Canada,” he said.

“On the destination, I think it would be wise for me not to be that clear today” because Greenland officials are still investigating Canadian cities.

Promotional documents prepared by the GN pitch an “Inuit cultural highway” between Nuuk and Iqaluit, that would help strengthen the Inuit language and diplomatic ties between the two regions.

The Nunavut and Greenland home rule governments want to share bureaucratic knowledge and Nunavut Arctic College and Ilisimatusarfik, Greenland’s university, are working on a new Arctic nursing diploma.

An air link would help all that, the documents say.

Iqaluit’s airport is well suited to host the connection because it has low landing fees says the document, which also predicts a new airport terminal building for the capital within the next five years.

The GN has had a master plan for a new building ready for nearly a year, but Aariak wouldn’t commit to capital funding for the project, which is estimated to cost around $40 million.

“We [the GN] talked about different ways of addressing that, including [public-private partnerships], so it’s not just the Government of Nunavut, it’s other organizations and other entities that will help,” she said

Iqaluit’s landing weather is billed as better than Halifax and St. John’s, the two other cities Air Greenland is mulling for its Canadian connection.

Iqaluit’s proximity to Nuuk also means passengers would spend less time in a Dash 8 and more time in a jet.

From Ottawa and Montreal, the two cities with daily connections to Iqaluit, Greenland travellers could easily connect to other Canadian, American and international destinations.

Hal Timar, executive director of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Iqaluit’s daily connections with Ottawa and Montreal means travellers from Greenland could get to other North American destinations faster than by going through the east coast.

“If they connect through here and meet up with our existing flights, which is the way it would be scheduled, it gives them access to the entire North American market in the same day,” he said.

Timar said a connection would Greenland could help make the business case for new routes to between Iqaluit and other Canadian cities.

The GN also supplied quotes from three Iqaluit residents, all of whom are GN employees, singing the praises of a connection between Nuuk and Iqaluit and saying a route would make them more likely to visit Greenland.

“It would be of great benefit to Inuit of Nunavut and Greenland in sharing and expanding their cultures,” said one. “A regular air link would help lessen the degree of isolation that Nunavummiut experience.”

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