While funding announcements from the federal government have been numerous over the past few weeks, there’s at least one more that Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main would like to see.
Main says it’s time for the Government of Canada to establish a subsidy for Northern air travel, similar to the longstanding Essential Air Service (EAS) program in the U.S.
The EAS provides a minimal level of scheduled air service, including to 60 communities in Alaska.
“This is generally accomplished by subsidizing two round trips a day with 30- to 50-seat aircraft, or additional frequencies with aircraft with nine seats or fewer, usually to a large- or medium-hub airport,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Nunavummiut could benefit from a similar program because “flying isn’t an option for us up here,” Main says.
“I believe that a direct federal subsidy for our Northern airlines has the potential to be a game-changer, if done properly,” he says.
His comments come as a merger is in progress between First Air and Canadian North, and a Government of Nunavut airline procurement strategy attracted only one bid from an airline – in Thunder Bay, Ont. – that isn’t already active in Nunavut, and that bid was rejected. But Main isn’t convinced the level of airline competition is a key factor.
“I’m no expert on the airline marketplace, but I think the issues are pretty fundamental. You have relatively low volume, high operating costs, and barriers to entry such as lack of infrastructure at our airports,” Main says.
“I think if we see new airlines enter the Nunavut market, they’ll be picking at the profitable routes which the existing companies use to cross-subsidize their non-profitable ones. So you could end up with cheaper travel from say, Rankin to Winnipeg, good – but then costs to travel to other communities increase out of necessity – bad. So more competition isn’t necessarily the answer.”