Air North announced Nov. 19 that they will be reducing the number of their Whitehorse-Yellowknife-Ottawa flights starting in the new year. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Air North reduces the frequency of its Ottawa flights

The company says rising fuel costs, airport fees and a decline in passengers are to blame

Rising fuel costs and airport fees, along with a decline in passengers means Air North is reducing the frequency of its Whitehorse/Yellowknife/Ottawa service, the airline announced Nov. 19.

Air North will continue to fly the existing twice-weekly route through January. It will then suspend the route for the remainder of winter and spring.

Twice-weekly service will resume from June 15, 2019 to Sept. 1, 2019.

Owner Joe Sparling told the News that, in addition to fuel costs, an increase in carrier fees at Yellowknife airport were costing the airline an extra $200,000 a year.

That required a fair number of additional passengers to be able to maintain reasonable seat pricing, said Sparling.

“When pass numbers dropped rather than grew and you add rising fuel costs to it, that makes a very difficult dynamic,” he said.

While the Whitehorse to Ottawa segment has shown some growth in passenger numbers, he said numbers are down for the Yellowknife to Ottawa segment, as well as the Whitehorse to Yellowknife segment.

“If you’re running around half full or less than half full, it’s tough to charge fares that people will find reasonable,” Sparling said, adding that most carriers operate at around 80 per cent full. The Ottawa route uses a Boeing 737, which has 120 seats.

“We’re finding that even in a month like December, we’re busy around Christmas but the beginning of December is terrible,” Sparling said.

Sparling said the company considered reducing the route to once weekly, but decided it didn’t make a lot of sense as most people want to come and go in the same week.

Instead, the airline may decide to add flights during high travel times, such as spring break, when there might be demand.

Sparling said the long-term goal is to make the route successful. In order to encourage that, he said Air North may talk to the territorial and federal governments to see what their flight needs are, and whether there’s a way for government to buy flights from Air North to help leverage things.

As well, if there’s increased economic activity in the Yellowknife market, he said the airline might feel comfortable bumping the number of flights up, but nothing is guaranteed at this point.

People with current 2018 Aurora Horizon Air Passes will receive an automatic extension until Sept. 1. Any pass holders with all segments remaining can get a full refund by calling Air North at 1-800-661-0407 Ext. 1.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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