Thunder Bay

Wasaya Airways says new planes can bring down prices in remote north

Executives with Wasaya Airways are hoping that the prospective purchase of new transport planes for its fleet will go a long way to drive down prices of food and other goods in northern First Nations.

Airbus bringing C295W transport plane to Canadian cities to market it to airlines

This Airbus C295W airlifter, owned by the Mexican Air Force, made a stop in Thunder Bay, Ont. Thursday to allow executives with Wasaya Airways a closer look. (Kris Ketonen / CBC)

Executives with Wasaya Airways are hoping the prospective purchase of new transport planes for its fleet will go a long way to drive down prices of food and other goods in northern First Nations.

An Airbus C295W transport plane, owned by the Mexican Air Force, was shown to the First Nations-owned airline, media and the public on Thursday in Thunder Bay.

"This airplane, literally, is sipping fuel compared to our existing equipment ... and they can bring a lot of goods into a community, really cheaply, so that's the attractiveness of this aircraft," said Michael Rodyniuk, Wasaya's president and CEO.
Wasaya's president and CEO Michael Rodyniuk said the First Nations-owned airline is looking to replace its existing Hawker Siddeley planes. Wasaya is currently examining the Airbus C295W as an option. (Kris Ketonen / CBC)

Rodyniuk said the airline is looking for new planes to replace existing Hawker Siddeley 748 craft and to expand their fleet, adding that right now, they're looking at the feasibility of initially buying two Airbuses, followed by three more.

"I have every expectation it's going to perform very well," he said in advance of a Thursday afternoon flight, which was slated to take company officials to Pickle Lake, then Kasabonika Lake First Nation, before returning to Thunder Bay.

Plane reportedly suited for remote conditions

Part of the reason for travelling to Kasabonika, a fly-in community about 450 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, was to see how well the plane performs landing in, and taking off from, small airports without a lot of infrastructure.

That's one of the plane's strong points, according to the manufacturer.

Pablo Molina, a Canadian representative for Airbus, said the C295W is designed to perform well in areas where there isn't a lot of infrastructure, like paved runways and large airports. (Kris Ketonen / CBC)

"Northern Ontario is a region which there are plenty of scattered communities with not that much infrastructure," said Pablo Molina, a Canadian representative for Airbus. "With this kind of platform, what you'd be able to do is to serve those communities in a better way."

Most airstrips in remote communities are about 1,065 metres of gravel, Rodyniuk said, meaning that options are limited in terms of aircraft that can be used. The Airbus transport can take off and land in less than 1,000 metres, he added.

Airbus is touring a number of Canadian cities, marketing the C295W to civilian airlines, Molina said, adding that currently, the craft is only being used by militaries, like Mexico, Egypt and several Latin American countries.

'Everything is really expensive'

For Kasabonika Lake Chief Eno Anderson, a cheaper way to bring goods into his community can't come soon enough.

"We need to do something, we need a bigger aircraft, so we can carry more fuel, and also the inflation up north, everything is really expensive, fuel, groceries," he said.
Kasabonika Lake First Nation Chief Eno Anderson said he's looking for a way to bring costs of food and fuel down in his community. He says a larger, more efficient plane should help accomplish that. (Kris Ketonen / CBC)

The community's yearly fuel consumption totals about 1.7 million litres, he said, and warmer winters are making the winter road network less reliable.

Wasaya's looking to replace its Hawker Siddeley planes by early next year, Rodyniuk said.

He said the list price for the Airbus plane is $28 million, although "we're hoping to be able to work on that a little bit."

Molina said he can't publicly divulge how much it costs.