An industry spokesman with more than three decades’ experience in the North says the region’s air operators are ‘hurting’.
Stephen Nourse, a veteran of 30 years with First Air, is the executive director of the Northern Air Transport Association – whose members are meeting in Yellowknife this week.
Nourse says the current economic climate, particularly a reluctance to fund oil, gas, and mineral exploration in the North, is creating an unsettling working environment.
“People like the rotary wing [helicopter] operators are not happy. They are the canary in the coal mine,” Nourse told Moose FM.
“When the industry goes down, they are the first to feel that aspect. A lot of the smaller operators, the charter operators – they are hurting.
“So much of their activity is driven by exploration and that initial work in the petrochemical world, the mining world and even in the environmental aspects associated with those projects. As that initial money dies, so do their charters.
“People are tightening their belts. This time of year, everybody is typically looking to try to gear up for the summer. [This year] things are slower.”
Nourse believes northern operators are facing not only economic uncertainty, but “death from a thousand cuts’ as they attempt to compete with larger, southern carriers.
As one example, he cites a perceived lack of support from the federal government.
“We’ve been pushing for years for more recognition of the North and northern carriers,” said Nourse. “Things like a better display of northern carriers in the government travel system.
“It sounds like a silly thing but, quite often, northern carriers aren’t used because they’re not displayed properly [in the government’s travel bookings system], and that’s wrong.
“In some federal government publications on tourism in the North, they don’t mention northern carriers. That’s wrong. Let’s support them.”
On top of this, Nourse is concerned by the potential impacts of climate change on northern logistics and infrastructure.
Earlier in April, a Canadian North flight bound for Inuvik felt unable to land when the town’s runway developed a sinkhole. The airport authority said the runway would undergo repair and no long-term issue was anticipated.
“I think we’re going to see more of those [types of incident] with the general warming going on,” said Nourse. “Those problems are going to happen more frequently.
“They’re on everybody’s radar now. They’re certainly the topic of a number of conferences. It’s a topic at a significant number of meetings in Ottawa and in the North.
“But we’re still waiting for the money.”