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Air North's Ottawa route breaks even

Air North President Joe Sparling says he's optimistic about the future of the airline's Whitehorse-Ottawa route, despite just breaking even in its first year.

Air North President Joe Sparling says he’s optimistic about the future of the airline’s Whitehorse-Ottawa route, despite just breaking even in its first year.

The twice-weekly service, which stops in Yellowknife, was launched on Feb. 6, 2014. Since then it has “held its own,” Sparling said, but it’s not quite as successful as he’d like.

“The route isn’t where it needs to be in terms of overhead expenses, but I think we were pleased enough with it that we’re certainly going to see it through,” he said.

“It takes time for things like this to catch on. It did what we thought it would do.”

Originally, Sparling thought the route to Ottawa would mostly be used by corporate and government employees. But that’s not how things turned out.

“I thought the biggest driver would be business and government travel, but in fact it’s individual travel,” he said.

“That’s been a bit of a surprise, but the uptake from people visiting friends and relatives has been perhaps somewhat better than we expected. The uptake from corporate and government travel has been somewhat smaller than we expected.”

Last year’s summer season did much better than the winter season, which is to be expected, he said.

That’s why the jury’s still out on whether the route should be seasonal or year-round. “We just don’t have enough off-season experience to really make a decision yet.”

That doesn’t mean they’ve got their finger on the panic button just yet. In comparison to other routes, it still “has a ways to go,” but at least it’s paying the bills, Sparling said.

One pleasant surprise for the airline has been the emergence of the Yellowknife market, which started out small but has shown steady growth.

More and more hockey tournaments, for example, have increased traffic to Whitehorse, Sparling said.

And while travel habits are hard to change, he believes there will be more traffic from Ottawa coming West.

“We’re marketing aurora packages to both Yellowknife and Whitehorse, and we’ve made it affordable and convenient for them to come and visit the North,” Sparling said.

“So I think that we’re going to try and cultivate that market a bit.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at