'We're here to stay': Canadian North defends viability post-codeshare

Canadian North plans to reinstate routes in four Baffin region communities after its codeshare agreement with First Air expires.

Airline's codeshare partnership with First Air to dissolve in May 2017

Canadian North's Steve Hankirk (centre) was in Iqaluit last week to lay out some of the company's post-codeshare plans, which includes adding routes back to Pangnirtung, Clyde River, Qikiqtarjuaq and Pond Inlet. (CBC)

Canadian North says it plans to reinstate its pre-codeshare routes around the Baffin region, the day codeshare finishes.

Steve Hankirk, the airline's president, was in Iqaluit last week to lay out some of the company's post-codeshare plans, which includes adding routes back to Pangnirtung, Clyde River, Qikiqtarjuaq and Pond Inlet.

The company had pulled its planes out of those communities with the codeshare agreement, leaving many in Nunavut wondering if those hamlets would be single-serviced by one airline.

"We're back. It's going to be a schedule very similar to what we had before [codeshare]," Hankirk said, who spoke publicly last week for the first time since First Air's announcement to end codeshare.

"I had hoped codeshare would continue because it's the right thing to do. I believe it was working for both parties. So the future of our airline is we're sustainable and we're stable."

The airline also plans to acquire another Dash-8 aircraft to service Eastern Nunavut.

"We're here to stay. It's going to be a financial commitment to come back," Hankirk said.

Hankirk also said despite the financial uncertainty of its sister company, the Northern Transportation Company — which is in bankruptcy protection — Canadian North shouldn't be affected if NTCL goes belly-up.

"Certainly [NTCL's financial situation] is in everybody's head, but one thing we have been signalled is the two very profitable businesses, ourselves and the Weldco Companies, are on the shareholders' minds and they're 150 per cent behind us," Hankirk said. 

"I don't feel set up. I feel disappointed."

Hankirk also shared his feelings on codeshare ending, saying he was caught off guard and was completely shocked.

"I absolutely wasn't expecting what I got told," Hankirk said of the moment he was told during a lunch with First Air president Brock Freisen in Vancouver.

"I don't know why they changed their mind, it makes no sense to me at all. From an economics standpoint, from a scheduling standpoint. I've been quiet for a couple of weeks for a reason, I didn't have a plan. I have a plan now."

There were some warning signs, though, that the matrimony between the two airlines was rocky.

For one, when First Air sent one of its larger jets — which serviced its Ottawa-Iqaluit route — to Florida for maintenance, the airline didn't give Canadian North the contract to pick up its slack, instead handing the route over to Flair Air to service in its place.

In response, Canadian North canned its evening flight from Ottawa — implemented as part of codeshare — and went back to flying simultaneous times.

Another came as First Air upgraded and bought new planes over the last year and a half. Hankirk said Canadian North was also improving its fleet, so First Air's upfleeting didn't raise any red flags that their partnership might be in trouble.

"In my mind, everything was working the way we planned it. I'm a honest guy that trusts deals when you get into them," Hankirk said, noting First Air did give proper notice of terminating codeshare.

"I don't feel set up. I feel disappointed. I don't think they had any intention going into this to set us up."


Nick Murray


Nick Murray is a CBC News reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He specializes in investigative reporting and access to information legislation. A graduate from St. Thomas University's journalism program, he's also covered four Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports.


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