Canadian North making temporary schedule changes

Canadian North is temporarily prioritizing freight and reducing passenger service in light of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Northern airline prioritizing freight, reducing passenger service

A Canadian North ATR42-500 at the airport in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in October 2019. Canadian North has announced temporary schedule changes in light of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. (CambridgeBayWeather/Wikimedia [CC BY-SA 4.0])

Canadian North is implementing temporary schedule changes in light of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The northern airline announced the changes — which include prioritizing freight and reducing passenger service — in a notice on its website Tuesday.

"We are fully aware that we provide essential services to the people, communities and organizations that depend on us so we must remain particularly vigilant to this situation," it reads.

Canadian North says as it's experiencing a "sudden and significant decrease in passenger demand," it's prioritizing freight transportation to maintain current capacity levels. The airline says it will also prioritize freight service to communities without road connections, if necessary.

The notice says Canadian North will maintain minimum passenger service levels for every community within its network.

For trunk routes, including Ottawa-Iqaluit, Edmonton-Yellowknife-Inuvik and Montreal-Kuujjuaq, it says that will mean reducing passenger service to one flight per day and removing passenger service on one to three days a week.

For smaller communities, it will mean reducing daily passenger service to every other day except "where demand is sufficient to warrant additional capacity."

For the trans-territorial route between Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, this will mean reducing passenger service from four to two times a week. 

The changes come into effect for at least seven days beginning Wednesday, March 18, but the airline says it expects they will last longer.

Canadian North says it also has a task force to implement precautions and respond to any challenges.

Don't visit Nunavik, Inuit leaders say

According to a Tuesday press release from Makivik Corporation — the legal representative of Quebec's Inuit which owns Air Inuit and Canadian North — Air Inuit will take similar reduction measures on its passenger service in the Ungava and Hudson regions of Nunavik.

The press release says Inuit leaders in Nunavik are telling people not to visit communities in the region unless it's absolutely necessary.

"We know the painful history of epidemics that have ravaged across small Arctic communities over the years. Our elders remember the scourge of tuberculosis, as well as the rapid spread of German measles that killed many Inuit in the 1950s," Makivik president Charlie Watt is quoted as saying in the release.

"Taking immediate action to essentially close the Arctic is important to protect our population."

Major gatherings in Nunavik, including Makivik's annual general meeting, have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Makivik offices, as well as schools and daycare centres in Nunavik, are also now closed. 

Northwestern Air Lease also cutting flights

Northwestern Air Lease, based in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is also cutting or combining some flights and reducing staffing levels in response to COVID-19, according to a statement from its chief operating officer, James Heidema. He said Northwestern Air plans to continue to offer some level of service throughout its routes.

Northwestern Air offers service to Edmonton, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McMurray, and High Level in Alberta, and Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Hay River in the N.W.T. 

Heidema's statement notes that Northwestern Air is adopting additional safety practices this week. He said they already have a "rigorous cleaning program," which includes special attention to surfaces, railings, arm rests, table tops, bathrooms and door latches.

Northwestern Air is also temporarily removing its normal change and cancellation policies until April 15.