Air North buys jet, sells toques

It's a shame the Yukon doesn't build airplanes because Air North was recently in the market for a new jet. And they like to buy local.

It’s a shame the Yukon doesn’t build airplanes because Air North was recently in the market for a new jet.

And they like to buy local.

The airline is in the process of acquiring a Boeing 737-400 as part of its fleet modernization plan.

Air North had expected to take possession of the plane about a month ago, but isn’t likely to get it up here until the end of the month, according to Air North president Joe Sparling.

The delay was due to importation problems.

The plane is currently sitting in a hanger just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, where it has already been painted the company’s signature white and orange, with the name of its future home territory proudly displayed on the tail.

The maiden voyage of the new craft is now expected to be around July 1.

The plane isn’t brand new, but its a classic, built back in the mid ‘90s.

Sparling won’t say how much the plane cost, but called it a “major acquisition.”

Brand new, a similar plane would set one back around $40 million.

The new plane is larger than the 737-200, the jet the airline currently operates between Whitehorse and Outside destinations. The 737-400 holds 153 passengers compared to the 200’s 120.

This makes the plane much more efficient – if you can fill all of the seats.

“That’s part of the challenge to achieve the fuel economy,” said Sparling.

“You’ve got, on one hand, the engines which are more efficient per seat and that’s great, but if you’re flying empty seats, you’re not saving any fuel.”

In an effort to fill those seats, Air North has stepped up its marketing and has launched a new line of merchandise.

The airline has partnered with Coast Mountain Sports and Northern Garments/Skookum Brand Parkas to release its own line of clothing.

There are polo shirts, fleece vests and jackets, soft-shell jackets, sherpa-styled hats, toques and limited edition Skookum Brand anoraks.

Oh yeah, and there are also Air North travel mugs of various sizes and an Air North stainless steel water bottle.

And it’s not like the company is just buying some shoddy clothing and slapping on a logo.

They’re buying high quality, stylish, eco-friendly clothing … and slapping on a logo.

Take the toque, for example.

Designed locally, the beanie has a six-dart top to prevent the decidedly out-of-fashion Yukon cone-head.

It is made from 50 per cent merino wool and has an anti-pill liner, which adds a layer of warmth and prevents toque itch.

These hats are made by Kootenay Knitting, which was the official hat maker of the Olympics.

On the other end of the spectrum there are those limited edition Skookum Brand anoraks.

The pricey jackets come with all the bells and whistles, including a pocket iPod holster and through-pocket grommet to run your headphones through internally.

The anoraks are made and designed in Dawson City and have been tested and proven in the Yukon Quest and the British Antarctic Survey.

That local connection is a big part of Air North’s philosophy. The company prides itself on being the Yukon’s airline and bases its operations in the territory.

“Being the hub is a whole lot better than being a spoke,” said Sparling.

Because Air North has chosen Whitehorse as its hub, it employs around 200 people – be they mechanics, pilots, flight attendants or administrative staff – who all live and work in the territory.

If the airline were to base its operations in Vancouver, for example, it would likely only have around 20 Yukon staff.

“The difference is huge in terms of the benefit to the economy,” said Sparling.

“And to make sure that that’s successful, we try to make sure that people buy from the local carrier whenever they can.”

The airline practises what it preaches.

Air North buys and serves its passengers Midnight Sun Coffee, Yukon Springs Water and Yukon Brewery Beer.

And because the flight kitchen is located in Whitehorse, most of the food is bought locally as well.

All of this adds up to one heck of an in-flight meal – a perk that is becoming increasingly rare in the airline industry.

Then there’s its in-flight magazine, Yukon North of Ordinary, in which the airline is a partner.

Focusing locally is important, especially during the current economic climate, said Sparling.

“In a tough economy, if we look after ourselves and support local businesses it helps keep everybody working.”

Air North launched its Go Yukon! clothing line and merchandise last night at Coast Mountain Sports.

Check out the goods online at www.flyairnorth.com or at Coast Mountain Sports and the airport gift store.

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com

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