Manitoba

'They have a monopoly': Northern Manitoba First Nations decry Perimeter Aviation following crash

A group of northern Manitoba First Nations says Perimeter Aviation has longstanding issues after a plane crash on a remote community left passengers "very shaken up."

'We don't want anyone to get hurt for them to take action,' Shamattawa chief says

Passengers are shaken up after a Perimeter Aviation plane ended up in a snowbank, Chief Eric Redhead says. (Eric Redhead/Facebook)

A group of northern Manitoba First Nations says Perimeter Aviation has longstanding issues after a plane crash on a remote community left passengers "very shaken up."

"This large corporation, which profits almost entirely off northern First Nations, is letting our First Nations down," Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak wrote in a statement late Monday night. MKO represents 26 northern Manitoba First Nations, including Shamattawa.

The flight from Thompson to Shamattawa landed around 5 p.m. Sunday, but while taxiing to the airport, veered off the runway and ran into a snowbank, snapping one of the plane's propellers. The 11 passengers and two crew members were not injured.

The turbo prop plane, built in 1987, suffered minor damage, Transport Canada said. The Transportation Safety Board has been notified.

"It has really affected a lot of the passengers psychologically," Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead said.

Redhead said his First Nation and others in the north have had longstanding issues with Perimeter, and he feels the airline is not taking this latest event seriously. 

"What does it take for Perimeter to step up? We don't want anyone to get hurt for them to take action," Redhead said.

Redhead said First Nation leadership met with Perimeter's vice-president of operations for an hour and half on Monday.

"We've met with Perimeter [on] numerous occasions to address capacity issues and safety issues, and that was the same thing. It was the same spiel that they gave us every other meeting," he said.

"It didn't seem like a meaningful conversation. It didn't seem like things were going to get done, as usual. We were very disappointed in Perimeter and their management."

Passengers get off a Perimeter Aviation plane that crashed into a snowbank shortly after landing in Shamattawa on Sunday evening. (Submitted by Eric Redhead )

The company plans to meet with leadership again in the future, Carlos Castillo, Perimeter's VP of commercial operations, said in an emailed statement.

"We have been serving Manitoba's northern communities for 60 years and take our commitment to them very seriously and are very proud of our track record," Castillo wrote.

Exclusive contract

Shamattawa is currently in a 10-year exclusive contract with Perimeter, signed by the First Nation's previous leadership, Redhead said. That means Shamattawa can only use Perimeter at its airport until 2027.

Redhead said Shamattawa and six other First Nations are looking to break similar contracts, and he's in discussions with other carriers.

"They have a monopoly on air transport in the north," he said.

"When you have a monopoly, you don't have to provide adequate service. You don't have to provide low fares, you don't have to be on time. Perimeter is notorious for being late. They're notorious for treating our people as second-class citizens, and that needs to stop," he said. 

When you have a monopoly, you don't have to provide adequate service. ​​​​​​- Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead

Castillo said by email if Shamattawa's leadership "would like to revisit the agreement, we would be pleased to do so."

Communities like Shamattawa, which is 750 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, rely heavily on the one flight a day in and out of their community. The planes not only transport people, but also food, supplies and the mail when the fly-in community is not accessible by winter ice road.

A round trip ticket between Winnipeg and Shamattawa costs close to $900, the airline's website says.

The majority of Perimeter's clients are in isolated communities, the company's website says.

The airline, operated out of Winnipeg, provides passenger airline service, medevac operations and cargo services to locations in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

The parent company for Perimeter, Exchange Income Corporation, also owns other northern Canadian flight services in Manitoba, Ontario and Nunavut, including Keewatin Air, Calm Air, Bearskin and Custom Helicopters. The company also operates PAL Airlines, which provides services on the East Coast, including remote areas of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In November 2017, a 19-seat Perimeter Airlines flight from Gods River to Thompson landed and then careened off the runway after losing pressure, suffering substantial damage.

In February 2019, the Manitoba government announced it had signed a five-year contract with Exchange Income Corporation for general air transportation to the tune of $4.2 million a year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter currently working for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with previous stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at marina.von.stackelberg@cbc.ca or on social media @CBCMarina.

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