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N.W.T. airline North-Wright Airways to suspend passenger flights in Sahtu region

The suspension from March 25 to April 13 is meant to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading to smaller communities.

Suspension from March 25 to April 13 meant to help prevent spread of COVID-19 into smaller communities

North-Wright Airways is suspending all scheduled passenger flights in the Sahtu region from March 25 to April 13 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Submitted by North-Wright Airways)

North-Wright Airways, based in Norman Wells, N.W.T., is temporarily suspending all scheduled passenger flights in the Sahtu region.

In a March 23 letter to Sahtu residents, the airline and community leaders say these flights will be suspended from March 25 to April 13 in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19. The letter is signed by the airline's president, as well as the chiefs of the Délı̨nę Got'ı̨nę Government, the Fort Good Hope Dene Band and the Tulita Dene Band, and the presidents of the Norman Wells Land Corporation and the Ayoni Keh Land Corporation.

"We are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the region," reads the letter. "We have a social responsibility to try our hardest to combat the spread of this … virus from coming into our communities, as we believe it will have grave consequences for the people."

Kyle Newhook, the operations manager for North-Wright Airways, said the airline decided to "take the first step here and say, 'We want to help stop the spread.' 

"For an airline company to say that that's it, they're going to halt their main business to protect people, that in itself is a statement."

North-Wright Airways is a family company that serves the N.W.T. communities of Norman Wells, Colville Lake, Inuvik, Tulita, Yellowknife, Deline, Fort Good Hope and Aklavik.

It's the latest small N.W.T. airline to announce major schedule changes due to COVID-19. Last week, Air Tindi said it would be laying off staff and reducing its schedule by more than 50 per cent after a dramatic drop in air travel resulting from outbreak protection measures. 

"We are basically just transitioning now into that period where the winter roads are closing so people typically rely solely on air travel right now," said Newhook.

"It couldn't come at a worse time, but right now our main focus is literally just on the safety and security of everyone, especially in the communities."

The airline says it will continue to fly cargo, mail and chartered flights with essential services providers, such as health-care workers and law enforcement officers. All charters, however, will have to be approved by the community's chief unless it's an emergency, reads the letter. 

The letter goes on to say that the decision comes with "extreme business implications," but that it was made for the health and safety of people in the Sahtu region.

"Now is not the time to think about anything but protecting the safety of the people." 

The letter says community leaders and North-Wright Airways will reassess the situation on a weekly basis and will resume passenger flights when it's determined to be safe to do so.

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