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The only commercial flight between Sanikiluaq and the rest of Nunavut has been suspended

A Pilatus PC-12, the plane used for Arctic Fresh's direct flights from Sanikiluaq to Iqaluit. As of last Sunday, the direct flight has been cancelled.  (David Gunn/CBC  - image credit)
A Pilatus PC-12, the plane used for Arctic Fresh's direct flights from Sanikiluaq to Iqaluit. As of last Sunday, the direct flight has been cancelled. (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)

Nunavut's most southern community will no longer have access to a flight to Iqaluit —  its only direct route to the rest of the territory.

Arctic Fresh, which offered the flight since 2021, said it had to end their route between Sanikiluaq and Iqaluit because of "large financial loss."

On Thursday last week, Arctic Fresh announced that the only flight between the community in the Belcher Islands and the rest of Nunavut will stop as of March 31.

"We couldn't just continue to take a financial loss," said Ryan Haggan, director of Arctic Fresh's sales and operations, told Radio-Canada.

The food retailer was initially awarded the contract after the government of Nunavut issued a call for tenders as part of a pilot project. Arctic Fresh contracted Quebec air carrier Panorama Aviation to operate the flights.

The flights transported up to eight passengers once a week in a Pilatus PC-12, a small airplane capable of landing on gravel runways, like the one in Sanikiluaq. The cost of a round trip ticket to Iqaluit was about $2,400.

These flights meant people could get from Sanikiluaq to Iqaluit in two hours and 30 minutes.

Sanikiluaq is the only community in Nunavut that doesn't have a regular direct commercial flight within the territory. In the past, residents had to fly through Winnipeg or Montreal to get to Nunavut. These routes are still offered through Calm Air and Air Inuit, but they mean several days of travel with multiple stopovers.

The airport in Sanikiluaq in October 2021.
The airport in Sanikiluaq in October 2021.

The airport in Sanikiluaq in October 2021. (David Gunn/CBC)

A lack of funding

Haggan said the airline has been struggling since the territorial government stopped subsidizing it at the beginning of 2023.

"We had some months where we broke even, which was good, but then there was quite a few months where it was a large financial loss," Haggan said.

"We had reached out to the GN on a number of occasions to see if there's an opportunity for them to continue support, but unfortunately we didn't get a response," he said.

For the first year and a half, the territorial government initially paid the difference when fewer than six seats were reserved on a flight.

In an email to Radio-Canada, the Nunavut government said from July to December 2022, the total subsidy amount was $281,000, with an average of 46.25 passengers a month.

"The intention of the pilot program was to determine if the route was economically viable. The numbers demonstrated that it was not," Irma Arkus, a spokesperson for the territorial government, said in an email.

The hamlet of Sanikiluaq pictured in October 2021.
The hamlet of Sanikiluaq pictured in October 2021.

The hamlet of Sanikiluaq pictured in October 2021. (David Gunn/CBC )

'Like being cut off from the rest of Nunavut' 

Michael Rowan, the acting senior administrative officer with the Hamlet of Sanikiluaq, said cancelling the flight means returning to square one for the hamlet. The community had campaigned for years to get a direct flight to the territorial capital.

"That direct flight connected us in a way that most of the people of Sanikiluaq wanted and have always wanted, but it's always been a struggle to get and maintain that connection," Rowan said.

Rowan said residents used the flight to visit family, to receive medical care and to go on business trips.

"It's basically like being cut off from the rest of Nunavut again," he said.

He said the hamlet council intends to look into the issue and raise it with the Nunavut Association of Municipalities and the community's MLA, Daniel Qavvik.

Qavvik did not respond to interview requests from Radio-Canada by deadline.

Haggan said Arctic Fresh is trying to find alternatives, but it would be difficult to pursue other options without the support of the territorial government.

"We're looking for that commitment from the GN. If the GN has said that they're going to send all their duty travel and all their medical travel through that direct flight, I think that would make this flight much easier to succeed," Haggan said.