Nfld. & Labrador

Late produce and fewer seats: North coast residents say Labrador's new airline falling short

Residents on the north coast of Labrador say they've seen a noticeable decline in service since the airlines that serve the communities merged last summer

Air Labrador and Innu Mikun combined last summer to become Air Borealis

Many on the north coast say they've seen reduced services since Air Borealis became the single airline serving the area last summer. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The sole airline that offers cargo and passenger services to northern Labrador today is under fire by those who rely on it as a vital lifeline, especially during winter months. 

"When you have two airlines as opposed to one, you have competition and I think it's just too busy for one airline," said Hopedale Mayor Marjorie Flowers.

Hopedale Mayor Marjorie Flowers says Labrador's north coast needs more than one airline. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"The airline can't handle the amount of travel and freight that comes in to the coast. This is, in the wintertime, the only means of getting things in to the community. [There are] no boats running, so we rely on the airline."

Up until last June, two competing companies served the north coast of Labrador, Innu Mikun and Air Labrador. They combined to become Air Borealis, which is backed by PAL airlines.

When two become one

The merger also brought together the business arms of the Nunatsiavut government and the Innu Nation. It promised "future growth" and "enhanced service." But just over half a year later, many on the coast say things have gotten worse. 

"We want to work together to make sure it works for our communities and I know Hopedale isn't the only community that's feeling the impact of having just one airline; it's all along the coast," said Danielle Pottle, assistant manager for Big Land grocery in Hopedale.

Danielle Pottle stocks. the produce at Big Land Grocery on a Wednesday, hoping more will arrived the next day as scheduled. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We just want to see it work, and whether the answer is for a competition airline to come in or not, I'm not sure."

Undependable 

Pottle said since the single airline took over, shipments of produce and other goods to the store have become less reliable.

We wouldn't be frustrated if it was once in a while but everybody is frustrated because its happening often.- Danielle Pottle

She points at produce as a prime example, saying before Air Borealis, the town knew Thursday would be the day fruits and vegetables would arrive but since the merger, that hasn't been the case. 

"The past few months, it's been coming any day of the week. Parts of orders coming in. It's just been very inconsistent," Pottle said.

Danielle Potter, assistant manager of Big Land Grocery in Hopedale, says deliveries were more reliable when there were two airlines serving Labrador's north coast. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We wouldn't be frustrated if it was once in a while but everybody is frustrated because its happening often."

Flowers also said getting a seat has become more difficult.

"Many times we've tried to get a reservation and we can't because there's only one airline and the seats are all taken," Flowers said.

"Also the number of seats have decreased."

Airline responds

Philip Earle, vice-president of business development for Air Borealis, said he's aware of the negative feedback from the coast and the airline is working to make improvements. 

"Admittedly, there has been some change, and I would think that there are some very positive changes that have taken place," Earle said. 

Earle said the airline has recently added more freezer capacity for food items travelling north, they do track their shipments closely and though serving the north coast can be challenging, deliveries do reach the communities within a reasonable time.

Philip Earle, Air Borealis's vice-president of business development, says the airline is continuously working to improve service. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We are the last leg in the supply line and sometimes that does impact when we receive the food items and when we're able to ship them to the communities," Earle said. 

"Due to some of the weather that we've had, we may have missed some of those timelines but with the timelines included we know we're delivering to coastal Labrador in 1.2 days."

Fewer seats

Earle said there are enough seats to meet the demand of the north coast but acknowledged passenger capacity has been reduced since the merger. 

Seats are available on a passenger flight from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to the north coast, but passenger capacity has been reduced since the merger. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We've changed the composition of seats serving the market, looking at the total demand in the market, offering a number of seats that allows us to carry the traffic offering on a given day."

Earle said the most important thing is building a successful company to serve the communities on the north coast.

"The positive change is the two aboriginal groups that own the company can share in the success that Air Borealis will bring to the shareholders," Earle said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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