Canadian North is launching daily direct flights between Yellowknife and Calgary, filling a gap created when Air Canada ended its service on the route.
Air Canada’s September decision to indefinitely scrap flights between Yellowknife and Alberta left WestJet the only operator on the Yellowknife-Calgary route.
Canadian North, which already flies direct between Yellowknife and Edmonton, now says it will add daily Boeing 737 service between Yellowknife and Calgary from February 14 next year.
The airline also said it will increase the frequency of its Yellowknife-Edmonton flights.
“It makes a lot of sense for us to fortify our base here,” said Canadian North president Michael Rodyniuk.
“With Air Canada’s departure – and I understand why they’ve redeployed that aircraft somewhere else, where they feel it can do as good or better a job for them – we believe that there’s a market opening.
“It gives us an opportunity to step in where they’ve stepped out.”
Flights will include hot meals at no further charge and what Canadian North calls its “signature warm cookie.” Rodyniuk said tickets would be “priced appropriately to drive demand” while securing the airline a profit.
“I think we’re going to be seeing substantial loads on the flights,” he told Cabin Radio.
“We are currently flying Edmonton-Yellowknife and our load factor is good. We expect that there’s going to be even better load factor coming out of Calgary.”
Canadian North is wholly Inuit-owned, a factor that Rodyniuk said played into the airline’s decision to launch the Calgary route.
“One of our shareholders is the Inuvialuit Development Corporation, based in Inuvik, and this makes life a whole lot easier for those folks trying to get to Inuvik,” he said.
“You can basically wake up in the morning and connect all the way north to Inuvik inside of a morning, as opposed to taking an entire day or, in some cases, two days.”
Below, read our full interview with Rodyniuk about the new route and Canadian North’s fortunes this year, including its summer shift in leadership – a shift that included Rodyniuk’s appointment in July.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: How easy was it for Canadian North to say there was an opportunity here? What were the challenges associated with opening this route?
Michael Rodyniuk: We had to go through our due process. We had to evaluate the market and make certain that what we were about to do would make good economic sense for us as well. We brought it before our board of directors and luckily one of our shareholders is the Inuvialuit Development Corporation, based in Inuvik, and this makes life a whole lot easier for those folks trying to get to Inuvik. You can basically wake up in the morning and connect all the way north to Inuvik inside of a morning, as opposed to taking an entire day or, in some cases, two days.
And you’re confident that the market does exist there.
We’ve demonstrated that. As a matter of fact, I think we’re going to be seeing substantial loads on the flights. We are currently flying Edmonton-Yellowknife and our load factor is good. We expect that there’s going to be even better load factor coming out of Calgary as well.
People here remember when there was no Air Canada or WestJet serving Yellowknife. Now Air Canada is dropping routes, but then you say you think a bunch of people are going to take these new flights. What’s going on? What’s happening in the aviation industry?
I think what you’re seeing with Air Canada is a focus on their core market, and their core market is not the North. Our core market is the North. That’s where we live, that’s where we shine. We believe that Yellowknife is our northern, western gateway to the High Arctic. So for us, it makes a lot of sense for us to fortify our base here.
And with Air Canada’s departure – and I understand why they’ve redeployed that aircraft somewhere else, where they feel it can do as good or better a job for them – we believe that there’s a market opening. With all of the benefits that our carrier has, including Aeroplan, it gives us an opportunity to step in where they’ve stepped out.
How are you going to make sure you’re competitive with what people were used to paying on that route?
We’re going to ensure that we are priced appropriately to drive demand to the carrier and, at the same time, return an adequate return to our shareholders. That’s what we’re all about. We want to make certain that we’re making life better in the communities we serve. That’s our mission. But at the same time, to be able to do that, we have to ensure that we’ve got a profit that we’re returning to our shareholders.
Through Covid, you can imagine airlines have been decimated around the world. Our shareholders have been very patient and they’ve also added capital into our organization to make certain that we survive. We’re a 76-year-old company, we’ve been around for a long time – Canada’s second-oldest airline – but what they really wanted to see was a return on their investment. And they’ve been patient. Now’s the time for us to be able to ensure that they get a return.
Speaking of coming out of Covid, we have a quite volatile environment in the aviation industry. What’s the financial shape of the company?
We’re doing great. The company is actually on very good financial footing now. We’ve posted profits since July. I joined the company in July. So we’ve been posting profits routinely since July. The company is doing very well and is liquid, it’s very able to sustain its operations.
And there’s a great opportunity for growth. We’re looking at opportunities to grow the company as well, beyond our gateways, but Yellowknife is tactically and strategically important for us. Its sister city on the other side of our network is Iqaluit in Nunavut. So for us, the west is Yellowknife, the east is Iqaluit. And the world is kind-of our oyster. We should focus first and most importantly, on the northern Canadian Arctic scene. But then from there, we’ll see.
There was a reshaping behind the scenes at Canadian North over the past year or so. What was that about? And what philosophy does the company now have?
The directors of the company were looking for somebody that understood the North. I have experience in the North from previous roles that I’ve played. I think the ownership felt there was a need for change. And with change comes renewal, and they’ve brought me in and we’ve basically, within a couple of months, been able to tweak a few things, and we’re seeing positive returns on what we’ve done so far. The ownership structure is solid and continues to support the organization. And myself, I work almost daily, if not multiple times a day with our executive chairman of the board. And I’m very pleased with the way that the company is progressing and where we’re going.
I gather there are changes in terms of Edmonton to Yellowknife and maybe some other routes. What else is happening?
There is increased frequency going into Edmonton or from Edmonton up to Yellowknife and then continuing on as far north as Inuvik. But then also the trans-territorial, which I think is one of the greatest unsung stories of our company. It’s almost the Orient Express of the North, it’s really quite interesting to be able to fly from Edmonton and Yellowknife across to Rankin and then connecting across into Iqaluit and then being able to go up even farther in the High Arctic, or go back down south into Ottawa or Montreal.
That’s a really interesting market and we’re seeing amazing amounts of new tourism coming into the region. People want to be able to go to Inuvik and then jump in a truck and drive up to Tuktoyaktuk, do the things that they’re reading about in some of the travel journals that are out there right now. We’re helping to facilitate that at good, reasonable rates.
Is there any change we’re expecting there?
You know, it’s funny you mention that. I was meeting with our employees recently and one of our team members gave me a tip. The tip was to be able to go a little bit higher on the trans-territorial, to actually go into the High Arctic. If you were to take a piece of string and connect two points on the globe, you’ll see that the higher you go on the Great Circle route, the more efficient you can become. So the connectivity a little farther north might even be something interesting for us to explore. And I think that’s something we’ll take a look at.
It’s been very public, we signed a letter of understanding with Greenland, we’d like to connect communities in Iceland, Greenland and Canada. And from our easternmost point on our network, coming out of Iqaluit, Nuuk in Greenland is just across the water. So there are opportunities for that, and we’re exploring those.
Lastly, I’m sure you hope the Calgary route is here to stay but when will you be reviewing that?
The launch of the program will be in February. We expect that it will produce but we watch our markets daily. We have a route profitability model that literally shows us on a moment-by-moment, real-time basis whether or not we’re profitable in that market. If it’s not profitable we have to make changes. And if the changes don’t hold, then we have to withdraw from the market.