Skyward flies to Coral Harbour’s rescue
But Manitoba-based airline doesn’t solve many residents’ airline concerns
A campaign by Coral Harbour residents to get larger aircraft service for their community partly succeeded earlier this month, when Skyward Aviation Ltd. put the hamlet on its route three days a week.
The Manitoba-based airline serves several Nunavut communities, including Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet, where it has a regional office.
The company began looking into serving Coral Harbour in August last year, when Calm Air discontinued its service to the community. “We were just responding to the needs of the people,” said Mark Holm, manager of Arctic Operations for Skyward.
With two flights a day on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, Coral Harbour residents can connect with First Air jets in Rankin Inlet. Holm said the schedule has been arranged to make such connections convenient for passengers.
What may not be convenient is the lack of washroom facilities on board, one of the main complaints residents cited in their campaign. Coral Harbour relies entirely on charter flights and regional airline Kivalliq Air, whose 12-seater planes are not designed for comfort.
Skyward uses a fleet of four Bandit 110 twin-engine planes to cover its northern routes. The planes are somewhat larger than Kivalliq Air’s fleet of Pilatus PC-12 planes. They seat between 12 and 18 passengers and are able to carry 1,000 pounds of cargo with 12 passengers on board.
There is no washroom, Holm said, “But we take along a porta-potty for long flights.”
During a Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. board meeting in Coral Harbour in early March, residents repeated their plea for airline service, and presented a petition with 800 signatures.
“I am disabled and I do travel,” elder Margaret Nakolak told NTI’s board members and the assembled group. “It’s very hard on the body — there are no washrooms and I have to continue getting up because of my disability. But on the airline we have, I can’t stand up.”
Coral Harbour resident Jimmy Ningeocheak echoed Nakolak’s comments. “There are no toilets in most of the planes. Most of their passengers are patients — these people are not well.”
Former mayor Louie Bruce made an emotional appeal. “If you could understand being forgotten… Coral Harbour is a forgotten community. It feels like we are not part of Canada,” he said. “We do get visitors from Italy, Germany and the Americas to do some sports hunting,” he said.
Coral Harbour has the demand to sustain regular air service, he told the NTI board. “We do have money. We can buy airline tickets. We are being bypassed,” he said. “We can see the planes flying from Rankin to Repulse overhead. We have a very good runway…”
Ningeocheak agreed: “As you know, we are not declining in numbers. Our population is growing very fast. Kivalliq Air does not have enough seats.”
During the Arctic Winter Games last month, Coral Harbour’s hockey team had to send its equipment ahead of time because there wasn’t room on the plane for both passengers and luggage.
But Skyward’s service, which began April 2, doesn’t solve most of the problems Coral Harbour residents complained of.
“It’s a positive step in the right direction,” Ningeocheak said this week. But he’s still pursuing the community’s original goal of larger aircraft with washrooms on board.
“They claim that they will [use larger aircraft] down the road,” he said. “Business is business. That’s how things run up here, I guess.”
The response from Coral Harbour has been good, Holm said, but it hasn’t been fantastic.
He added Skyward is planning changes to its northern service in the next couple of months — and that those changes may affect Coral Harbour — but he wouldn’t specify what they might be.
“This schedule was just to get the service started,” he said.