Condor’s Whitehorse flight on endangered list
Mike Thomas/Yukon News
The Whitehorse airport is too small. At least, it’s too small for Condor.
“Whitehorse is a good market for us, we want to continue to do it,” said Condor’s Chicago manager Petra Kelsey. “But the airport is really not conducive to international travel.”
For the last nine years, from May through early October, the German air carrier has connected the Yukon with continental Europe.
But this service may soon end.
“The real concern is the Whitehorse airport’s not really equipped,” said Kelsey.
“And it makes future operations … well, next summer we’re back at the drawing board, let’s put it this way.”
Since 9/11, landing in Whitehorse has been a struggle for Condor.
After picking up Whitehorse passengers, the German airline lands in either Fairbanks or Anchorage before carrying on to Frankfurt, Germany.
“The market for a direct turn-around in Whitehorse is just not there,” said Kelsey.
“But for two turn-arounds, like we do, there is a market, because that increases your frequency.
“So, we combine the Whitehorse stop with something that makes this trip worthwhile, and that’s stopping in Fairbanks and Anchorage.”
However, American security regulations make the Whitehorse stop bothersome.
“Americans don’t like intermediate stops on the way to the US; that’s a given fact,” said Kelsey.
“And they don’t like stops in different countries with passengers remaining onboard even though a security search is done.”
At any point, the US could demand that Condor’s passengers leave the plane in Whitehorse while a cabin search is carried out, she said.
And if the US demands an empty-cabin search, Condor’s Whitehorse service will cease, said Kelsey.
“An empty-cabin search cannot be done in Whitehorse; the airport is not big enough.
“We would love to take our passengers off and get everything done smoothly, but it’s just not possible.
“Where are you going to put 269 passengers? You have one little bitty gate there. So, when you put 100 people in there, they are pretty much like sardines.”
Condor was granted an exemption that allows its cabin search to proceed with passengers onboard in Whitehorse.
The German airline hired Air North security to do the searches, and works with Transport Canada and the US Transport Security Administration to ensure its security checks are done in accordance with regulations.
“But if Transport Canada thinks a rule or regulation has not been observed, they can write us up,” said Kelsey.
“And during audits these agencies can hide something on the aircraft, without going through regular passenger screening, and if it’s not found by the search, it’s a big problem.
“If they find something they don’t like, they will send us notification and make a suggestion, and before we got the exemption, one of these suggestions was to deplane the passengers, which is not possible.”
US pressure is mounting, said Kelsey.
Finding space inside Whitehorse airport is not the only problem.
Because there’s only one gate, if another aircraft arrives before Condor, and it’s late leaving the gate, the German flight could be delayed.
“And if we’re delayed, we could possibly run out of crew duty time and the whole flight cancels,” said Kelsey.
“Really, this whole operation is very fragile.”
As long as everything is on time and everyone works together, including TSA and Transport Canada, then the service is still possible, said Kelsey.
However, any snag puts Condor’s Whitehorse flight in jeopardy, she said.
Its Whitehorse service delivers roughly $7 million in tourism trade to the territory annually, said Tourism branch director Pierre Germain.
“Air access is critical to our survival.
“And now we’re probably in the best position we’ve ever been in, with Air North, Air Canada and Condor flying in here.
“The demand for traffic to Whitehorse is very, very strong, and I think it’s been growing over the years, so I think Condor is pretty pleased with this route, and how it has been performing.”
But with the Condor flights, there’s not much room for error, said Germain.
“The TSA is playing a much larger role in ensuring that planes flying into US cities meet certain requirements and, of course, that burden will fall on us and Condor, because the last place they depart before arrival in the US is the Yukon.
“And because the timeline is pretty tight for them to not timeout, everything has to go like clockwork.”
If the US demands an empty cabin check, then Condor will just have to change its route and run direct flights, Whitehorse to Frankfurt, said Germain.
But there wouldn’t be a market for a direct Whitehorse to Frankfurt run, said Kelsey.
Condor would probably just run from Anchorage, she said.
“Condor already flies to Germany directly from Anchorage and those planes are nice and full.
“If Whitehorse airport would get just a little bit bigger, things would be a lot easier for everyone.”