Federal funding provides limited relief for N.W.T. airlines

From CBC News – link to story and updates

$8.7M in funding ‘not going to go very far for the airlines that are all suffering’

John Van Dusen · CBC News · Posted: Apr 16, 2020

Kyle Newhook, operations manager at North-Wright Airways, says the COVID-19 pandemic has changed his company overnight. (Submitted by North-Wright Airways)

Kyle Newhook is used to overseeing several scheduled flights a day with North-Wright Airways, a family-run airline that connects the Northwest Territories’ Sahtu region with the rest of the territory. But the operations manager says the company has drastically changed overnight due to COVID-19.

“Now we’re not doing any of that,” he said, in between loading a plane at Yellowknife’s airport. “We’re just doing basic cargo runs and the odd charters here and there for essential travel.

“It’s been nothing short of a struggle.”

Airlines worldwide have seen reduced schedules and layoffs and the N.W.T. has been no exception, dealing a serious blow to a vital network that serves as the supply chain to dozens of communities throughout the territory.

A federal funding announcement on Tuesday worth $8.7 million to air services in the territory provides some relief, said Chris Reynolds, president of Air Tindi, a Yellowknife-based airline that’s been in business for more than three decades. But he said it won’t be enough.

“While we’re happy the over $8 million is announced, we just think that’s just the first step,” he said.

“That’s not going to go very far for the airlines that are all suffering the same.”

There could be more help on the way. N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod said there will be further investments down the road and the territory’s infrastructure minister has pledged her support.

Air Tindi calls back employees 

Reynolds said his airline was able to call back roughly 90 per cent of its 185 employees this week, after it learned it qualified for a federal wage subsidy program. However, it was under a sombre atmosphere.

“We were able to call them back because of the subsidy, not because of foreseeable revenue,” he said.

“I don’t know what work will be out there after the pandemic.”

A Twin Otter operated by Summit Air. Myles Cane, senior vice-president of operations for the Yellowknife-based airline, said the impact of the funding is uncertain until the eligibility criteria becomes clear. (Summit Air)

Reynolds said the crisis comes at the worst time for the airline industry — right before the busy summer season, when travel ramps up.

He hopes the funding that’s been announced will hopefully make up for the expected shortfall, though it will be up to the territory to decide how to dole out the money.

Myles Cane, senior vice-president of operations for Summit Air, also based in Yellowknife, said the funding was unanticipated and its impact is uncertain until the eligibility criteria becomes clear. 

He said he hopes it helps the airline’s operating revenues, which have seen big losses, though declined to provide figures.

“It’s obviously a pretty bleak environment for everybody, for a lot of businesses, Canada-wide and in the North.”