North-Wright steps in to fill Sahtu service gap left by Canadian North
North-Wright Airways is launching four new flights between Yellowknife and Sahtu communities, beginning on June 5.
The Norman Wells-based airline’s announcement comes just days after Canadian North informed scheduled passengers it is dropping Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday flights to and from the town.
Canadian North published an announcement about its summer schedule on Friday, in which the airline confirmed 50-percent decreases in its service to Norman Wells – offset by significant increases in service elsewhere.
Kyle Newhook, North-Wright’s operations manager, said the airline was already planning to increase flights to Norman Wells and neighbouring communities from Yellowknife.
When the Canadian North news broke, Newhook said North-Wright decided to expand its plan and add even more new flights ahead of the busy summer season.
North-Wright currently offers a range of flights across six days of the week from Yellowknife to the Sahtu, producing a total of around 11 departures per week.
From June, the airline will fly from Yellowknife an extra four times a week.
“Originally it was only going to be three, said Newhook, “but we thought we need to add another one now, just to help relieve some of the pressure that we know a lot of people are feeling to have these flights.
“In the week, we’ll be going through the communities as well to help offer support, because we know it’s not just Norman Wells that’s affected.”
Newhook said flights every Tuesday and Saturday will depart Yellowknife at 11am for Norman Wells between June and at least mid-fall, replacing cuts to Canadian North’s service.
If they prove popular enough, the airline will likely keep running them.
Newhook said North-Wright has already “seen numbers come back in a big way” after the pandemic. He said adding more flights – to move more people and more freight on a more frequent basis – is the airline’s way of responding to the increase in travel and shipping.
“Of course, there’s still a pilot shortage that affects the industry as a whole, so this hasn’t been an easy move,” he said, “but we’re going to do everything we can to try to make things work for everyone in the communities.”
Newhook said North-Wright has been in touch with canoeists, hikers, and hunters who had trips planned in the Sahtu this summer and may have been affected by Canadian North’s cancellations, as well as various tour operators. North-Wright is usually the airline booked to charter guests into more remote destinations once they reach Norman Wells.
He said North-Wright offers a different rate for people “travelling on their own dime, for personal reasons” rather than for corporate or business travel. If you feel you qualify for that special rate, reach out to North-Wright’s office directly.
Canadian North’s summer schedule announced
Instead of issuing a statement responding to concerns voiced this week, Canadian North instead chose to release a summer schedule announcement on Friday.
That announcement confirmed the cut to Norman Wells services but set out an services elsewhere.
Flights from Yellowknife to Inuvik will increase 100 percent, the airline stated, while flights from Inuvik to Yellowknife will increase 140 percent now that neither flight is stopping in the Sahtu.
The airline also announced a new route between Iqaluit and Yellowknife, though no further detail was immediately available.
Those changes take effect on June 4, the day before North-Wright plans to increase its number of Yellowknife-Sahtu flights. Other changes from May 6 will mean slight decreases in Canadian North’s level of service to Hay River and Fort Simpson.
In a news release of its own on Friday, the Town of Norman Wells expressed disappointment in Canadian North’s decision to drop the town from so many of its summer flights.
“We are not naïve and understand the need for a business to be viable, and we recognize the North requires subsidy for many of its vital services. That does not lessen our need for a dependable and affordable airline service,” the town stated, calling on the federal government to listen to concerns about the cutback’s impact on residents’ quality of life.
“This cut and the coming cost increases will be placing undue hardship on our community members who rely on the airline service for medical appointments, businesses which rely on consultants and trades workers from the south, and the tourism and economic development businesses we have been developing in our communities,” the town wrote.