Summit Air rehiring some staff using federal subsidies

The NWT’s Summit Air says it will hire back full-time staff laid off last month as the Covid-19 pandemic brought northern airlines almost to a standstill.

Summit Air had announced in late March the departure of around 45 staff at its Yellowknife, Edmonton, and Calgary bases, on what the company termed “temporary involuntary leave.”

Those employees joined more than 150 other northern airline workers who lost their jobs in March.


However, on Tuesday, Summit Air said it would now use the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy – a federal program offering to pay 75 percent of many workers’ salaries – to bring some employees back.

“The program will allow Summit Air to bring back full-time employees previously laid off as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and will help to maintain employment levels over the next three months,” read a statement issued by the airline, which did not specify the precise number of employees to be rehired.

Lane Zirnhelt, Summit’s chief operating officer, said in the same news release: “Our focus right now is on taking care of our people, business continuity, and on positioning Summit Air to emerge from this crisis stronger, for the long-term benefit of us all.

“Much of our work has stopped as a result of the pandemic. Our flying hours are down significantly compared to pre-Covid 19 levels and this is expected to continue for the next 12 weeks.”

In a separate announcement on Tuesday, the federal government said the NWT would receive up to $8.7 million to inject into its airlines in a bid to keep them flying. Exactly how that money will be distributed was not clear.


The Sahtu’s North-Wright Airways meanwhile said it will operate no scheduled passenger services until at least May.

North-Wright has maintained its decision to suspend flights is more about protecting the Sahtu from Covid-19 than operational difficulties. The airline believes an absence of passenger flights to and from Yellowknife to the Sahtu will reduce the likelihood of Covid-19 appearing in local communities.

“We will continue to serve the communities for any mail, freight, and on-demand charters,” the airline told customers on Tuesday.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue to work together to protect the communities we serve.”