Codeshare agreement to blame for cargo backlog, says Nunavut MLA

The MLA for Rankin Inlet North says the codeshare agreement between First Air and Canadian North is to blame for a backlog of cargo in the community. The relatively new agreement has drawn ire from travellers and communities that rely on the North's two main airlines.

'There is a big backlog of freight just sitting here in Rankin [Inlet],' says Tom Sammurtok

The codeshare agreement between two northern airlines is to blame for a backlog of cargo in Rankin Inlet, according to one Nunavut MLA.

The agreement announced last year allows First Air and Canadian North to sell seats and cargo on some of each others' flights. It's supposed to increase profits for the northern airlines, but it has drawn ire from travellers and small communities that rely on them.

The schedule between Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit used to be one of the busiest in the North, with six flights a week. Now it's been reduced to three flights a week, with only one operated on a Canadian North 737.

'Ever since the codeshare system started... all MLAs throughout Nunavut have been receiving complaints,' says MLA Tom Sammurtok. (Courtesy Tom Sammurtok)

The other two flights are on Summit Air's Avro RJ85s, which are subcontracted to First Air — an aircraft not suited for that route's cargo needs, according to the MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, Tom Sammurtok.

"This aircraft is smaller and it's not able to carry as much freight as before," he says.

"That's one of the biggest complaints. There is a big backlog of freight just sitting here in Rankin."

Sammurtok says the codeshare agreement has been a problem since its inception.

"Ever since the codeshare system started, all of us, all MLAs — and I don't mean just me here in Rankin — all MLAs throughout Nunavut have been receiving complaints about how bad the service has become."

Size restrictions

First Air has restrictions on the size of cargo — it won't take anything larger than 60 centimetres wide by 60 centimetres tall and 91 centimetres long — meaning anything larger than that must travel on the one Canadian North flight a week.  

If that flight is cancelled or doesn't make it to Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit, customers have to wait another week before their cargo.

Recently, the Canadian North flight scheduled for Thursdays did not made it into both Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit two weeks in a row, meaning some people had to wait three weeks to get their cargo. 

'Happy to look into what we can do better'

First Air and Canadian North say they haven't heard complaints and insist there is no backlog of cargo.

"I agree the RJ may not be the ideal aircraft for cargo movements," said Bert van der Stege, a vice president at First Air. "It's the right aircraft in terms of economics."

Van der Stege said they're open to change, though.

Bert van der Stege, a First Air vice president, says the smaller aircraft used on the Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit route makes economic sense. (CBC)

"If we need to make changes and if we can make changes, as long as these changes make economic sense to us, we are always happy to look into what we can do better."

Kelly Lewis, the manager of communications for Canadian North, says he hopes MLAs will bring examples of specific issues to a public meeting about codeshare concerns at the Nunavut legislative assembly on Jan. 26.

"The more details the better, that's how we can really dig in and fix things," Lewis says. 

"If we only [hear] very general frustrations we will still do our best to fix it but it will take a lot more leg work."

Sammurtok also plans to hold a public meeting about the agreement in Rankin Inlet on Monday.

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