The strange weather pattern blowing hot air over Baffin Island, creating melts, rains and blizzards from one week to the next, hit air carriers hard over these last few weeks.

“There have been 162 flights cancelled out of Iqaluit between Oct. 1 and Nov. 27,” said First Air’s manager of marketing and communications Dan Valin.

“This compares with 58 cancelled flights in the same period in 2016.”

The jet stream coming from the west, descending into the Kivalliq region and rising up again into the Baffin region, has created an intense weather pattern, or heat engine, with weather havoc on both sides of the trough, shown here as the green tear-drop shape over the Hudson Bay. Environment Canada predicts more of the same wacky weather into mid-December.
photo courtesy of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Valin says it’s not yet possible to measure the financial impact.

“But obviously there is cost involved in re-planning flights,” he said.

Meanwhile, over at Canadian North, communications manager Kelly Lewis declined to share numbers.

Noting the past month has been “blustery”, Lewis said, “while the majority of our Iqaluit flights have operated without interruption over the past month, we have had to cancel or delay some of our flights due to poor weather or runway conditions.”

Many Nunavummiut have experienced the mid-air turnaround or fly-over due to weather. Both carriers say those decisions are made on-the-fly, as weather develops. Both cite safety first.

“Weather conditions have been similar throughout much of the Baffin Island region over this time period with many communities being impacted,” said Valin. “Essential cargo deliveries have often been delayed as a result of the poor weather.”

Lewis said, “Tasks such as loading passengers and cargo, de-icing aircraft and clearing ramps and runways generally take longer in poor weather, which can lead to delays. We will sometimes hold our jet flights for delayed connecting flights from the communities to keep our passengers moving.”

To catch up, First Air says it adds extra services as quickly as possible to meet backlog, while Canadian North noted the versatility of its Combi aircraft, “so we are able to continually adjust the ratio of passengers and cargo to meet continually changing needs.”

“We may also add in extra flight sections to clear backlogs when possible and necessary, such as we are doing for our Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk service this week,” said Lewis.

Meanwhile, up-island, Baffinland – which operates the Mary River iron mine – is generally unaffected.

“This year in particular, while Iqaluit and much of region has faced severe weather challenges and shutdowns over the last month, Baffinland has generally been operating as per usual,” said spokesperson Jason Leite.

“Since we transitioned from a project to an operation, we have continued to learn new ways to overcome the challenges of working in the High Arctic, including dealing with weather challenges.”

While health and safety are always the priority, said Leite, good planning and protocols have been established.

“If there is ever a risk to the health and safety of our employees or the environment due to bad weather, our operation is shut down and our standard flights are delayed. Flight delays, both for our employees from the northern communities, and our southern employees, are unavoidable when working in the Arctic,” Leite said.

“We are also prepared with extra food, fuel, and other supplies on site to deal with any long-term weather-related shutdowns.”

Leite adds: “From a production standpoint, we budget for bad-weather days in our production forecasting and targets, so the approximate amount of shutdowns are forecasted and accounted for.”

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