Flight returns to Inuvik after fuel service contractor quits

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An Aklak Air flight from Inuvik was already on its way to Paulatuk when the airline received word that the fuel service contractor in the hamlet was no longer going to be dispensing fuel.

The flight returned to Inuvik to pick up a Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) fuel service employee so that the plane could be re-fueled in Paulatuk.

John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister at the territorial Department of Infrastructure, met with the Drum in November to discuss how fuel and supplies would be shipped to Northern communities after their usual fall barge was cancelled. Vandenberg said as of last week, all of Paulatuk’s fuel for the winter has been delivered and they are scheduled to received their usual re-supply in the summer via barge.
NNSL file photo

If the flight had landed in Paulatuk, it likely would not have been able to re-fuel.

John Vandenberg, assistant deputy minister at the GNWT Department of Infrastructure, said the government was not aware that the contractor had quit their post until the plane had already left Inuvik.

“We didn’t know about it until the plane was on the way in, and the plane was advised that fuel services weren’t going to be available because the contractor had ceased work,” said Vandenberg. “In any case, the contractor wasn’t able to provide services to the plane … So the plane turned around and it was unfortunate, and we regret the impact it had on the passengers.”

Vandenberg said the GNWT fuel service employee that was sent to fill in for the contractor is still in Paulatuk and is working with a replacement contractor to ensure fuel service continues to be uninterrupted over the holiday season.

In 16 communities across the territory, the GNWT hires contractors to operate the territory’s fuel infrastructure. Vandenberg said most of the time, these services are provided by local contractors.

“We had a momentary glitch where things were interrupted but the bottom line is that services continue in the community of Paulatuk and will continue into the new year,” he said.

While the issue was unprecedented, he noted there are a number of trained fuel service personnel in Inuvik.

“In my time, I can’t recall ever having a plane in the air and someone quitting while that happened … we have a number of government employees in Inuvik who are all well-trained and can train others to do this work,” he said. “We have these people available, and we have them available for a reason.”

In November, the Inuvik Drum reported that several communities that were set to receive barge deliveries of fuel and supplies had those deliveries cancelled. Paulatuk was among them.

At the time, 650,000 litres of gasoline and diesel fuel needed to be moved to Paulatuk to supply the community with energy for the winter.

As of last week, Vandenberg said all of that fuel has been delivered and the community is all set until its regularly scheduled fuel delivery this summer.

“We have plenty of fuel in Paulatuk, and the facilities are in good shape,” he said.

Vandenberg said the GNWT will meet with the hamlet and locals in January to determine the next steps.