The air traffic control tower at Yellowknife Airport. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Restarting commercial flights into and out of Yellowknife is a complex process, officials say, and pinning down a safe date to book a flight is tricky.
While free flights are being offered to evacuees in Alberta, Whitehorse and Winnipeg, some people ended up elsewhere in Canada, have their own reasons for needing a commercial flight, or are coming to Yellowknife for tourism or business purposes.
Others are residents who had flights booked out of the city later in September and need to know if those travel plans can still be relied on.
But the territorial government has no date by which people can be confident commercial flights will go ahead.
Jeffrey Edison, a Department of Infrastructure regional superintendent, said on Saturday that free evacuee flights and planes carrying essential workers are the priority. Essential workers are supposed to be back by Tuesday, while the airlift back into Yellowknife is currently set to run from Wednesday to at least Sunday.
Edison said the airport needs to bring back staff that don’t necessarily work for the GNWT, such as security workers and air traffic controllers, before scheduled flights can ramp up.
“We anticipate on day one there will be commercial services, but it will be a reduced operation,” said Edison, referring to September 6.
He said the department had originally thought Sunday, September 10 would be the earliest date at which a full slate of commercial flights could operate, but staff are working to “close that gap” and get things back to normal earlier.
“There are no guarantees and a lot of moving parts,” he said.
“A lot of pieces need to come together in order to get to that final date. More follows as days progress … over the next couple of days, the plan should become more solidified.”