Christian Busch, CEO,

AIR INUIT

"Air Inuit is a regional carrier owned by the people of Nunavik in northern Québec, Canada. The airline is in its 44th year of service, employs a dedicated team of 800 employees and operates a fleet of 28 aircraft."

How has Air Inuit dealt with the challenges COVID posed to the airline industry?

In Air Inuit's particular case we are the lifeline of our territory, and as Nunavik communities are not linked between themselves or with the southern area of Québec by roads, aircraft act as the sole commuting service, taxi, bus and ambulance. There was a total shutdown of the region at the beginning of COVID to protect the people and the territory as medical infrastructure and medical resources are limited in the area. The cooperation between the different major organizations of the region allowed a common strategy to maintain safe and necessary air transportation services for the wellness of the communities. This concerted plan included services for those providing medical services, and essential workers to make sure that communities continued to receive essential goods and get the proper servicing of equipment. Most commercial scheduled flight were suspended, and the flight program became one that was controlled by the health authorities to safeguard the territory. On the other side, the cargo situation, which includes things like essential goods for the communities, perishable goods, food and medical supplies was maintained at 100%.

To what extent has mining related travel into Nunavik improved year over year?

If we compare spring of 2020 with spring of 2021, the difference is stark. Several of the restrictions on mining work have been lifted, while efforts to safeguard communities remain strong. Therefore, we are seeing more mining work travel. Companies are progressing this year, and we are seeing them come back to continue their exploration campaigns. We have two major mines on our territory run by Canadian Royalties and Glencore that also had major challenges during the COVID period, and we are now seeing things normalize in terms of workers returning.

What are your top priorities as the newly appointed CEO of Air Inuit?

Air Inuit is a specialized organization with 43 years of operations as a carrier. We operate a fleet of diversified aircraft in a very remote territory. The reality is that most of our runways are gravel and gravel runways have a high impact on aircraft maintenance. One of our priorities is to work together with the owners of those air strips, which is the Québec government, to elaborate a common a vision with regards to airport infrastructure. We need lengthening of our runways, as most of them are 3,500 feet.

Access to equipment to service your runways, is another big challenge because you have one opportunity to bring large equipment up to our communities, and it is in the summer during the shipping time. Once the ships have navigated you are waiting an extra year to bring the equipment back up there, therefore efficient planning is key. The day you decide to have paved runways you better have the basic equipment plus your backups already up there because you are not getting backup equipment if something breaks down within the same year. We fly Twin Otters, Dash-8’s and Boeing 737 200's, which might seem of older generation, but we fly them out of obligation, not by choice, because the 737 200 is the only jet that is certified to land and operate on gravel. In order to realize our vision of a modernized, more environmentally friendly fleet, in the coming years we need to have the infrastructure that goes with it. Finally, the success of our company lies on the 800 employees who ensure the airline operates with high standards of safety, service and innovation and I thank them for their contribution.

How is the territory farring now the world is starting to move forward after Covid?

Now that the territory is reopening slowly, we are seeing improvement in passenger loads traveling to Nunavik, Because of the nature of the remoteness of our area, control measures such as Covid testing and vaccination are in place and highly encouraged. Air Inuit, owned by Makivik corporation, and representing the 13,000 Inuit of Northern Quebecis is firmly on side with all the organizations with the primary objective of safeguarding the region.

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