Air North to lay off more than half of its employees

Air North president Joe Sparling expects the air carrier will soon be down to one Vancouver flight and one northern flight per day. More than half the airline's staff could be temporarily laid off.

Yukon airline could reduce service to 2 daily flights — one to Vancouver, and one to points north

A plane takes off with mountains in the background.
Air North president Joe Sparling says the airline will reduce staff and flights because of the coronavirus. He says that will put the company where it was about 16 years ago. (Submitted by Air North)

Yukon's Air North expects to temporarily lay off more than half of its employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Company president Joe Sparling said Thursday its full complement of employees in Yukon and Vancouver is about 400 people.

That will soon be down to about 150 in the territory, he said. He said the company's contracts with other air carriers to provide ground handling at the Vancouver airport have all been suspended.

"At this point, we're looking during the month of April, perhaps one jet flight a day and one turboprop aircraft flight a day. So we're going to be back to 2004 size in about a week here," Sparling said.

The jet flight will be from Whitehorse to Vancouver and back. Air North's scheduled service to Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna and Victoria is suspended.

Sparling said Thursday's flight to Vancouver had 26 passengers, with 84 people on the return flight.

The turboprop flight that will continue daily goes from Whitehorse to Dawson City and Old Crow in northern Yukon, and Inuvik, N.W.T.

Sparling says taxes and fees paid by airlines in recent months should be returned to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic. (CBC)

None of the flight crew employees have been laid off, Sparling said. He said the pilots and flight attendants have set up a work share program that's resulted in less flights and hours for each of them.

Staff in the catering unit are starting up a side business to prepare and deliver meals to potential customers in Whitehorse, said Sparling.

He said the layoffs are terrible for the airline's employees and their families. Some are taking voluntary layoffs, he said. Other employees are working at home.

The goal for the airline now, he said, is to cover at least wages and fuel costs with the fares paid by passengers.
That still leaves the cost of overhead, he said. Sparling wants governments to return taxes and fees that have been paid by airlines in recent months.

He is representing the transport industry on the Yukon government's new COVID-19 Business Advisory Council.

Sparling said Air North's full complement of employees in Yukon and Vancouver is about 400 people. That will soon be down to about 150, in Yukon. (Murray Lundberg)

Asked about complaints that there's not enough distancing on Air North flights, Sparling said it's a difficult issue.

"We have the choice, if we want to provide distancing, we've got to tell a whole bunch of the people that they've got to wait another two days to come home — and that's not going to go over well," he said.

But he said, with plummeting numbers it won't be a problem for long.

Sparling said Air North will soon be selling a maximum of 80 seats on the 120-seat aircraft.

With files from Christine Genier