Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 26, 2012 - 9:39 am

Citing near-zero demand, airline grounds High Arctic service

Canadian North sells only three passenger bookings

JIM BELL
After months of promotion and advertising, Canadian North managed to sell only three passenger bookings for a trial route through the High Arctic announced this past December. The airline decided earlier this month to cancel the service. (FILE PHOTO)
After months of promotion and advertising, Canadian North managed to sell only three passenger bookings for a trial route through the High Arctic announced this past December. The airline decided earlier this month to cancel the service. (FILE PHOTO)

After selling only three passenger bookings, the Canadian North airline will cancel a trial run through the High Arctic that would have operated April 6 to April 14 in competition with First Air.

“We are very sorry to report that due to an underwhelming response to our offering, we have decided not to operate these flights,” Tracy Medve, president of Canadian North, said March 22 in an email to Tununiq MLA Joe Enook, Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk and Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliot.

Until the 1990s, Resolute Bay enjoyed a jet service leveraged by the Polaris lead-zinc mine at Little Cornwallis Island. Arctic Bay benefitted from a jet service used to fly workers and supplies in and out of the Nanisivik mine.

But when those mines closed, the High Arctic’s air transportation system suffered a major shock from which they have never recovered. All communities are now served by smaller and more expensive prop aircraft.

Canadian North announced the trial run this past December, in response to longstanding complaints from MLAs, community leaders and numerous High Arctic and north Baffin residents who said they want airline competition to lower rising air fares.

Under the experimental service, the airline would have operated a route through Igloolik, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet.

This would have allowed travellers to fly between the three communities without having to first fly through Iqaluit.

And the route was set up so that travellers from Grise Fiord and Resolute could connect to the service by way of a First Air flight from Resolute to Arctic Bay.

In February, First Air, which has served the affected communities for years, dropped its prices on those routes and then added more flights of its own on the days when Canadian North proposed to operate.

So despite years of incessant complaints, most High Arctic and north Baffin residents shunned the new service and Canadian North sold only three tickets for it.

“With only three passenger bookings we could not operate the trial schedule as we had planned, as it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to do so,” Medve said.

She said in her email that Canadian North promoted the service through advertisements, announcements and emails to mayors, community leaders and travel agents.

Passengers, however, stayed away in droves.

“We were pleased to partner with you and your community in offering this service and are disappointed it was not successful,” Medve said to the MLAs in her letter.

Quttiktuq MLA Elliot, an aggressive proponent of better and cheaper air service for the High Arctic, communicated his displeasure with Canadian North in an email to constituents that he shared with Nunatsiaq News.

“The cancellation of the trial [sic] flight is disappointing as this would have provided some competition.” Elliot said in the email.

And Elliot asked why it’s possible for Canadian North to hold 52 per cent of the Government of Nunavut’s medical travel contract for Arctic Bay and Resolute Bay, when they don’t offer scheduled service to those communities.

Elliot also urged his constituents to book flights through the First Air website, since they now offer a service similar to what Canadian North had been planning.

“It is nice to know that there is one airline that is willing to listen to our community concerns and needs,” he said in his email.

“It is also obvious from First Air’s response that competition does push prices down and affect scheduling,” Elliot said.

First Air’s heavily discounted Easter air fares for the region advertised a one-way ticket between Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet for only $139, including all taxes and surcharges.

The same low fare applies also to Arctic Bay-Resolute Bay and Igloolik-Pond Inlet.

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