Nunavut government to launch trial air service between Sanikiluaq and Iqaluit

A request for proposals calls for two weekly flights between the Nunavut communities starting in May.

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The Government of Nunavut is looking to launch scheduled flights between Iqaluit and Sanikiluaq starting in May, on a trial basis. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

The Government of Nunavut is looking to launch scheduled flights between Iqaluit and Sanikiluaq, a community that’s not currently connected by air to anywhere in the territory.

The territorial government issued a request for proposals earlier this week, seeking an air carrier to operate two weekly flights between Iqaluit and the community of about 900 on the Belcher Islands.

The territory is giving the air service a trial run: the government contract is looking for an airline to operate those flights for a six-month period, starting in May through to December, though the tender provides the option to extend the contract by an additional 18 months.

No direct flights exist between Sanikiluaq and any other Nunavut community.

Currently, Sanikiluaq residents have the option of flying south to Winnipeg on Calm Air. The community is also served by Air Inuit through Nunavik, though that airline has halted commercial flights to and from the community since the pandemic started.

Leaders in Sanikiluaq have long called for better air services to and from the community, and that call got louder as the COVID-19 pandemic required travellers to quarantine for a two-week period any time they left the territory.

“The lack of scheduled airline services to the community has had a major impact,” Hudson Bay MLA Allan Rumbolt told the Nunavut legislature last month.

The proposed flights would operate on Mondays and Thursdays, in a small aircraft that could carry a minimum of eight passengers, the tender indicated.

The air carrier would be required to advertise and sell tickets to both the GN and the public; the government would guarantee the purchase of six seats per leg.

The request for proposals opened on April 12 and closes April 26.

Sanikiluaq mayor Johnnie Cookie has long advocated for Nunavut flights from his community. He penned a letter to the territorial government last year, using the example of a Nunavut Arctic College student from Sanikiluaq whose recent trip to Iqaluit required a two-week stay in isolation and five days of travel, at a cost of $9,000.

Cookie welcomed the news about a trial air service to and from his community.

“We will see what will come about from what has been proposed,” he said.

“Out-of-towners have also been happy that it might proceed.”