Heroes with wings
COVID-19 and the story of Canadian North
There are so many stories that need telling these days, and one that shouldn’t be forgotten is the story of Canada’s North and how the people living there are managing during a time when the world has been turned upside down by COVID-19. Canadian Travel Press had a chance to connect with Chris Avery, president & CEO of Canadian North and, in this Q&A session, he talks about how the airline is continuing to operate to the communities it serves.
CTP: So, let’s start with basics. Tell our travel agent readers about Canadian North – a little of its history; fleet; routes; employees; ownership – all the things that agents need to know about Canadian North.
AVERY: Canadian North is a 100% Inuit-owned airline that connects people and delivers essential goods throughout Canada’s North – safely, reliably and always with friendly and helpful customer service.It operates to 26 destinations within the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Nunavut, from its Southern gateways of Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton, with a versatile fleet of Boeing 737, ATR 42 and Dash 8 aircraft. Canadian North is also the premier provider of air charter services for large resource sector clients requiring dependable, efficient and economical fly-in/fly-out charter services.
We also offer charter flights across North America and beyond for sports teams, cruise lines and other large groups. Canadian North is wholly-owned by Makivik Corporation and the Inuvialuit Development Corporation.
CTP: How has COVID-19 impacted your airline? Is it operating any of its flights?
AVERY: Like all airlines around the country and the world, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our operations. We have reduced our scheduled flight operations and have adjusted some routings to ensure we can continue to operate to the communities that depend on us while ensuring that we utilize our resources effectively.
We continue to operate to all of our existing destinations at a reduced frequency. While there might be a significant drop in demand for non-essential travel, we must continue to operate in order to ensure the communities continue to receive their groceries, their mail and all of the supplies they require. We also continue to operate to allow for COVID-19 tests to be sent down for testing in labs in the Canada’s South.
CTP: Serving the far north must be a challenge in good times, how are you managing right now – people aren’t travelling and this is the main tourist season for the north isn’t it?
AVERY: Serving Canada’s North is indeed a challenge at times as we have to handle weather conditions that can be extreme. We have (if I can say so) the most dedicated and professional employee group that help us keep operations going at all times.
The tourism season this coming summer might be impacted but we will continue to work with our Northern tourism partners and will be ready to support the tourism industry as we always do when the time is right to do so. While international travel might be affected for a longer period, we certainly hope (when the time is right) that the North will get its time to shine as a tourism destination. The North offers some truly unique landscapes and viewpoints, it deserves to be on all Canadian’s must see list.
CTP: Have you had any luck getting assistance from the territorial or federal governments? What kind of help do you need? How bad is the situation for Canadian North? How long can you continue to operate?
AVERY: We will continue to operate to the best of our abilities to all of our destinations. We understand our role, and we understand what our service means to the people of the North. But we can’t sustain essential services to the North on our own without financial assistance from levels of government. Communities rely on us to operate, we can’t and shouldn’t cover these costs ourselves.
We will continue to be in dialogue with all levels of governments. We have a great relationship with our territorial partners and we have been able to get their support in terms of flexibility to manage our schedules. As all Canada is doing, it’s being strong together that we will get through this.
CTP: Would you consider Canadian North to be an essential service – can you tell our readers why? What makes its situation different?
AVERY: We absolutely are an essential service.
The majority of our destinations have no roads to reach them, we are the road for them, their only connection.
Boats can only access the communities for a small period of time during the year. Communities rely on us for bread, milk, eggs, fresh produce and other grocery items and essential supplies.
Many communities don’t have full health care infrastructure and rely on us for medial travel for their appointments.
During a time like this one with COVID-19 they rely us to fly test results and additional medical supplies.
We are the connection to the North.
CTP: Do you have more to add … I’m sure I haven’t covered everything … please feel free to add whatever you think needs to be added.
AVERY: Whether it’s normal times or these recent times, it truly is an honour for us to be able to connect the communities we serve. The people of the North are tremendously resilient and warm. What we do is unique and it’s a privilege to be part of the daily lives of the communities.