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Iqaluit to Sanikiluaq flight to take off as soon as COVID-19 dies down

The regular flight is a six-month pilot project meant to break Sanikiluaq's isolation.

The regular flight is a 6-month pilot project meant to break Sanikiluaq's isolation

Sanikiluaq's airport will soon be busier, thanks to two scheduled flights a week direct from Iqaluit, set to start as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow. (Isabelle Beauregard)

Plans to launch a regular flight route between Iqaluit and Sanikiluaq as a six month pilot project are grounded due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Iqaluit.

Arctic Fresh Projects Ltd. and Panorama Aviation won the contract to operate the twice weekly flight that was supposed to start on May 31 and end on Dec. 2.

"We have our reservation system ready to go. We have our aircraft and personnel ready to go. It's just waiting now," said Merlyn Recinos, owner of Arctic Fresh, an Igloolik-based online grocery company. 

Sanikiluaq is a small community of about 882, according to Statistic Canada's 2016 census. It's on the Hudson Bay's Belcher Islands and is the most southerly community in Nunavut. Right now, the only way to travel between Sanikiluaq and the rest of the territory is via Winnipeg.

Sanikiluaq is a small community of about 882, according to Statistic Canada's 2016 census. It's on the Hudson Bay's Belcher Islands and is the most southerly community in Nunavut. (CBC)

Before the pandemic, Sanikiluaq was connected by air routes to northern Quebec, too. 

The mayor of Sanikiluaq, Johnnie Cookie, and the MLA, Allan Rumbolt, have long called on the government of Nunavut to create a direct flight route between Sanikiluaq and Nunavut.

The flight takes two hours, and Rumbolt says the connection will cut six days off every trip he has to make to Iqaluit.

"So the timing is going to be much more efficient for me," he said.

Sanikiluaq mayor Johnny Cookie with his wife Annie. (Submitted by Johnnie Cookie)

Because he's an MLA, Rumbolt is exempt from two weeks of isolation required for most people entering Nunavut. This means most people traveling in and out of Sanikiluaq to anywhere else in the territory, have to isolate twice in Winnipeg.

Cookie said the connection will make it easier for people from Sanikiluaq to attend meetings elsewhere in Nunavut, go to medical appointments, and to further their education and training.

Not only that, but people will be able to visit their families more easily. 

"It has been it has been very hard for any one of us to travel," Cookie said.

Rumbolt is hoping that the flight means more government officials will visit Sanikiluaq. 

MLA for Hudson Bay, Allan Rumbolt. (Beth Brown/CBC News)

The way the contract is written means this is likely.

The Nunavut government guarantees that it will buy six seats out of every flight. Each seat costs $1207.50, one way. If the airline sells four seats, the territory will pay for two. If the airline sells seven seats, it won't buy any.

This contract is being called a pilot project. The companies have the chance to extend the contract by six months three times, for a total of two years. After six months, they're allowed to change the seat prices to reflect the Consumer Price Index. 

Panorama Aviation will be flying a nine-seat PC-12 aircraft back and forth from Iqaluit to Sanikiluaq. (Panorama Aviation)

A spokesperson from the Department of Community and Government Services said the flight route will be considered a success in the short term if it "breaks the community's isolation caused by pandemic travel restrictions."

Longer term success will be measured by demand for the flight, "as well as the value the service is bringing to the community of Sanikiluaq."

Panoramic Aviation will fly a PC-12 aircraft, with nine seats.

Arctic Fresh and Panorama Aviation are determined to provide a service to Sanikiluaq that is in demand — Recinos said their goal is to not have to rely on the territory buying seats.

Corrections

  • This story was updated from a previous version that mistakenly said the population of Sanikiluaq was 300. It is, in fact, about 882, according to Statistics Canada's 2016 census.
    May 26, 2021 1:43 PM CT

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