Enabling remote operations
While the pandemic has caused many to question what the future of business travel will look like, Québec has a pair of airlines in Air Inuit and Nolinor who play an integral role in servicing remote communities in the North. As demonstrated throughout the pandemic, these airlines not only provide transportation for workers commuting to mining camps, they also act as an important lifeline to the territory, providing essential goods for the communities including perishable goods, food and medical supplies. For Air Inuit these supply routes were maintained at 100% throughout the pandemic. Christian Busch, CEO of Air Inuit, pointed out: “As Nunavik communities are not linked between themselves or with the southern area of Québec by roads, the aircraft acts as the sole commuting service, taxi, bus and ambulance.”
Air Inuit is 100% owned by the Makivik Corporation. Its owners, therefore, are the Inuit of Nunavik, representing the 13,000 Inuit of Northern Québec. When asked to compare spring of 2020 with spring of 2021, Busch pointed to a starkly different environment. “Several of the restrictions on mining work have been lifted, while efforts to safeguard communities remain strong. Therefore, we are seeing more mining workers travel. Companies are progressing this year, and we are seeing them come back to continue their exploration campaigns.”
There are two major mines in Air Inuit’s territory, run by Canadian Royalties and Glencore, and these companies suffered major challenges during the Covid period. However, Busch continues to see things normalize in terms of workers returning. Looking ahead, Busch explained that the company will prioritize working together with the owner of the air strips, which is the Québec government, to elaborate a common vision with regards to airport infrastructure. Runways must be lengthened as most of them are 3,500 feet, and these days, flying regional aircraft on 3,500 foot gravel runways is a huge challenge. “We have to look at innovative situations, as when you are in a northern environment like ours, reality hits quickly as you are in an area where there is permafrost, and where the climate is very difficult in the winter,” Busch reasoned.
Nolinor Aviation was equally resourceful in managing its business throughout the pandemic. The airline, which ran both mining related and tourist flights to the North, quickly focused on finding new opportunities as the pandemic took hold. “We were lucky that our business is mining focused, because unlike many airlines that had to shut down or reduce staff by 50%, our business activity remained buoyant. This is a testament to our mining clients who were very well structured and able to adapt, setting a system in place to continue their operations,” said Marco Prud’Homme, president of Nolinor Aviation.
Nolinor, which counts Agnico Eagle amongst its top clients, did not see any drop-off in its mining related flights. The company was able to continue its growth by adding a contract for the Minerai De Fer, a mining operation in Wabush, and they now fly there every Tuesday and Wednesday with their Boeing 737-400, an aircraft added last year to the fleet.
“People now understand that the aircraft is not only about going from point A to point B, but it is about leaving on time from point A, and making sure that you are getting to point B safely,” Prud’Homme said, referencing Nolinor’s on time departure rate of around 98-98.5%. The company is now looking to add to its fleet of three Boeing 737-400s because mining clients have praised the aircraft for its low level of cabin noise and comfort. Despite the initial intent to use them for charter flights to Cuba and Florida, Prud’Homme anticipates some mining clients will want to continue to keep those Boeing 737-400 aircrafts under contract.
Image courtesy of Robert Metz on Unsplash