Overseas flights already cheaper than to Iqaluit, as Northern Airlines prepare to merge

It is cheaper to fly to another country than it is to Nunavut.

If you live in the territory, you’ve heard this lament, and it is true. A one-way fare from Ottawa to London, England tomorrow would cost $850. A flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit on the same day starts at $940.

This has Nunavummiut worried, as they await the merger of the North’s two largest airlines, Canadian North and First Air.

The federal government has approved the merger, provided the airlines follow 31 regulations and restrictions designed to maintain the status quo with Nunavut’s air travel.

For the customers, that status quo was pretty expensive to begin with.

“It is very expensive for me, as a single mother,” explained Jenny Ell of Iqaluit. “It’s very hard to try to leave with my children, because it’s so expensive. To leave from Ottawa to overseas, it’s cheaper to do that than from Ottawa to here, and that’s kinda not fair.”

Both airlines are currently owned by Inuit corporations, one from Nunavik and another from Northwest Territories, that claim saving money on operating costs will make the airline more efficient.

The 31 conditions attached to the merger are supposed to make sure prices don’t rise, but are all but guaranteed to eliminate seat sales and even the most basic of competition.

Adam Arreak-Lightstone, an Iqaluit MLA, wonders if company savings will be passed on to the customers.

“I share a lot of concerns like many Nunavummiut have expressed,” he told APTN News. “I understand there are many effencies when it comes to a merger, but on the other hand, I’m not completely convinced of the new airline passing on those effencies to the customer.”

In Nunavut, every community is a fly-in community. To live in Nunavut is to be dependent on the airlines, whether waiting for cargo or hoping to travel.

Kathy Hanson is concerned; she knows she has no choice.

“I’m a little bit worried,” said the long-time Iqaluit resident. “Right nw it’s pretty costly to head out anywhere, in the North or in the South. Of course, living on an island, we have no choice but to fly out.

The Competition Bureau of Canada called the merger a “monopoly” and recommended it be declined. The federal cabinet went ahead and approved it.

Now, Nunavummiut are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and are wondering if these limits and rules keep airfare at the status quo.

kdriscoll.ca

Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.