Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is calling upon the federal government to designate air transport as an essential service to 51 Canadian Inuit communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to fund the airlines accordingly.
Airlines have been reducing service as demand has dropped steeply due to the coronavirus.
“Air travel routes in Inuit Nunangat are equivalent to the TransCanada Highway in southern Canada. They are vital links connecting remote regions of the country to each other and to more populous centres,” Natan Obed, president of ITK, stated in a news release on Tuesday. “Our airlines are called on for the transport of medical patients and for delivery of COVID-19 swabs, and form a critical backbone to our healthcare system. Any delays in this system due to significantly reduced flight schedules poses a significant risk to Inuit health and wellbeing.”
ITK noted that major airlines operating in Inuit Nunangat “have pledged a minimum level of passenger and cargo service, at increasing financial loss. With declining revenues, this will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.”
The Inuit advocacy organization called for emergency support from Ottawa for airlines serving Inuit Nunangat. Designating those airlines as an essential service would allow federal funds to be allocated, “as they are for other federally regulated services to which all Canadians have a right to access no matter where they live,” ITK stated.