Air North may resume Whitehorse-Yellowknife-Ottawa flights over spring break if demand is high enough, says company president Joe Sparling.
The airline announced Monday it will be suspending the twice weekly flight to and from the capital from January until June 15 when traffic begins picking for the summer before possibly shutting down again Sept. 1. But in an interview with Yellowknifer on Wednesday, Sparling said the service may return over spring break and during other special events, such as a hockey tournament taking place in Whitehorse this May — if demand is high enough.
“We’re looking at all the special events,” he said. “Once Christmas is over things really get quiet for a while. It makes it more difficult for us to offer affordable fares on flights that are not paying their way.”
But Sparling also warned the Ottawa route could be further impacted should another airline begin offering direct Yellowknife to Toronto flights.
Greg Hanna, a spokesperson with the Department of Infrastructure, confirmed there are talks of a possible route between the two cities by a yet unnamed airline.
Asked about the prospect of such a route, Sparling said the east to west market is a “tough route” and if another airline swooped in on the Yellowknife to Ontario market, it could affect Air North’s Ottawa route.
“There are a lot of players. I’m sure others are looking at the (Yellowknife to Toronto) route,” he said.
“The market is only so big, so if someone wants to take a stab at Yellowknife to Toronto it will likely impact (Air North),” he said.
Air North is citing high fuel and airport fee costs in Yellowknife and not enough passengers using the flight for its decision to suspend the route. Simply put, the flights were not “paying their way,” said Sparling.
The airline is still determining just how long it will suspend full service and no schedule has been finalized, said Sparling.
When it first started the route, Air North anticipated significant government travel but the Whitehorse to Ottawa flight, connecting through Yellowknife finds its main market is with users visiting friends and relatives.
Airline travellers are “very price sensitive” and instead of doubling fares to meet the cost of operation in the low season, Air North is planning strategically to offer a reduced number of flights at an affordable rate, said Sparling.
“If we doubled the fares, people wouldn’t buy it,” he said.