February 3, 2006

Airbus team likes Iqaluit’s dry cold for huge A380

“I’d pretty well say we’ve got the cold weather market sewn up.”

ARTHUR JOHNSON

John Graham, Iqaluit’s airport manager, and David Simailak, who was then Nunavut’s minister of transportation, at last year’s Paris air show, where they arranged to have cold weather testing done in Iqaluit for the 550-seat Airbus A380. (FILE PHOTO)

If you have a lemon, the saying goes, make lemonade.

It’s a lesson that a team from Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation and the Iqaluit Airport Authority took to heart last June when they went trolling for business at the Paris air show.

The delegation was hoping to sell major aircraft makers on Iqaluit as the perfect spot for testing their products in cold weather. They landed a whopper — the Airbus A380, an immense, 550-passenger airliner, which is due to arrive at Iqaluit airport, weather permitting, in the next few days for a week of tests.

Accompanying the aircraft will be about 50 pilots, engineers and other Airbus employees from across Europe, who will contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local economy by renting hotel rooms, dining and buying Inuit carvings and other keepsakes.

That’s impressive, but it’s only the beginning of the dividends from the air show, airport manager John Graham said this week.

Graham said that three other aircraft makers, including Brazil’s Embraer, have signed up to test their machines in Iqaluit. What’s more, he said, Canada’s National Research Council and General Electric Corp. are considering a plan to establish a facility in Iqaluit to test the effects of ice on aircraft engines.

“Until we went to the air show, the National Research Council had no idea that we were the premiere cold weather testing site,” Graham said. He went to Paris as part of a five-person delegation. The others included David Simailak, then Nunavut’s Minister of Economic Development and Transportation, Alex Campbell, the deputy minister, Methusalah Kunuk, the assistant deputy minister, and Kilabuk’s executive assistant.

That’s surprising, considering the Iqaluit has been a cold weather testing site for at least 10 years. In fact, said Graham, “I’d pretty well say we’ve got the cold weather market sewn up.”

He may be exaggerating a bit, but the Paris trip has certainly helped to put Iqaluit on the cold weather testing map. Still, no one is taking anything for granted. When the Airbus contingent arrives in Iqaluit, they’ll be feted by the GN.

The reason the Airbus people — and anyone else who will test their aircraft in Iqaluit — are getting the star treatment is that they are seen as crucial to the local economy. Not only do the test pilots and others boost profits for restaurants, hotels and artisans while they’re here, they also help to spread the word about Nunavut as a unique tourist destination.

Some of the test people have been coming to Iqaluit from France for years, said Graham, “and they rave about how fabulous it is to eat the fish here. They have a fascination with Nunavut and Iqaluit.” They also drop a bundle on Inuit art.

But the real attraction, according to Graham, is the particular quality of Iqaluit’s cold weather. Test teams can usually count on the right temperature range — it must be at least -25 or -30. And, he added, “They really like the dryness of our cold.”

It doesn’t hurt that Iqaluit’s airport is unusually large and has one of the longest runways in Canada, especially when something as enormous as the A380 is being tested.

The aircraft will make a couple of flights during its week in Iqaluit, and, since it’s several times the size of the aircraft used by First Air or Canadian North, will be hard to miss. But most of the testing will actually take place on the ground.

The A380, built in Toulouse, France, is to start hauling passengers Singapore Airlines and other carriers later this year. The airliner has already been tested for high altitudes in South American and for high temperatures in the Middle East.

But anyone hoping to get a trial flight aboard the monster aircraft while it’s in Iqaluit is out of luck.

Graham, the airport manager, has already tried to wangle a ride himself, and was turned down — Airbus’s insurance coverage prohibits outsiders on board until the aircraft is actually certified to carry passengers.

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