Pond Inlet welcomes new air service

Six weekly flights and a new airport will improve North Baffin air travel



POND INLET — About 30 people crushed into the tiny airport at Pond Inlet last Wednesday, hoping to be the first to get a tour of one of First Air’s two new ATR 42-300 airplanes.

Starting this past Monday, First Air is introducing six flights a week between Pond Inlet and Iqaluit, instead of four. Three of the flights will be direct, and three will go via Clyde River.

Town council interrupted a meeting so that the mayor, deputy mayor and councilors could be the first to experience the novelty of an airplane that can heat itself while idling on the tarmac, without using outside power.

“The best part is that the wings make it easier to see the view,” said mayor Peter Aglak.

The elders were the next to walk up the red carpet.

The direct flight will take about two and a half hours to reach Iqaluit.

“It used to take four hours,” said Rosie Kunnuk, who was among the first in line with her four-year-old daughter, Vanessa.

But Kunnuk observed that it’s still too expensive to travel often.

“It’s cheaper to fly from Iqaluit to overseas than from here to Iqaluit,” she said.

The increased flight traffic comes at a good time for Pond Inlet, where 18 construction workers have been working on a new, bigger airport since Sept. 10.

The new airport, located right beside the old airport, but at least three times the size, is scheduled to open in March 2005.

Throughout the day, about 500 people — over one third of the population — made sure to get a raffle ticket for the chance to win one of two free round-trip tickets anywhere that First Air flies. About 200 people crammed into the dining room of the Sauniq Hotel to eat cake and hear the winners.

First Air’s two new ATR 42-300s can carry up to 42 passengers, or a combination of passengers and cargo. They are faster and more fuel-efficient than the Hawker Siddeley 748s that they will replace.

New, better service will expand to Cape Dorset, Hall Beach and Igloolik in 2005.

The planes have been flying in the Kitikmeot region since 2001, but have only recently been introduced to the Eastern Arctic, where they will serve all of the Baffin communities with the exception of Panniqtuuq.

The runway in Panniqtuuq is too short for the plane to land. First Air has asked the territorial government to consider extending the current runway into the ocean, at a cost of some $27 million. Some Panniqtuuq residents would prefer to see the runway, which currently cuts the community in half, moved to the top of the mountain east of town.

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