Nunavut gov't mulls whether to extend pilot project flight connecting Iqaluit to Sanikiluaq

The hamlet of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut's most southern community. (Jackie McKay/CBC - image credit)
The hamlet of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut's most southern community. (Jackie McKay/CBC - image credit)

The Nunavut government is weighing whether to continue a pilot project that provides a twice weekly direct flight between Sanikiluaq, the territory's most southern community, and Iqaluit.

Sanikiluaq, a community of about 900 on Hudson Bay's Belcher Islands, is the only community in Nunavut that does not have a regular direct commercial flight within the territory.

Before the pilot project, the only way to travel between Sanikiluaq and the rest of the territory on a scheduled flight was through Montreal or Winnipeg, an expensive option which requires overnighting.

The flight from Sanikiluaq to Iqaluit takes about two and a half hours and a current one way ticket costs $1,255.80 per passenger.

Each flight can take a maximum of eight passengers, though the Nunavut government is guaranteed six seats per flight under the current contract.

The pilot project is currently being subsidized by the territory until the end of the year, but can be extended for a further six months.

Data from the territory's Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs provided to CBC provides a look at how many people are using the pilot project, and how much the territory is spending on it.

From July 2021 to October 2022, there were on average roughly 48 passengers per month. Over that same period, the government of Nunavut has spent almost $1.1 million on the pilot project.

No decision yet 

"I can speak from experience that my constituents very much appreciate the ability to travel directly to and from their capital city, without having to overnight outside of the territory," Daniel Qavvik, the MLA for Hudson Bay, said in the legislature Nov. 8 according to Hansard records.

Qavvik questioned Nunavut's Minister of Economic Development and Transportation David Akeeagok if the territory would be extending the project.

"To date, we haven't decided whether we're going to be extending," Akeeagok replied.

In an email to CBC, the Nuanvut government said a decision on extending the project is expected to be made in mid-December.

Arctic Fresh Projects Ltd. and Panorama Aviation won the contract to operate the twice-weekly flight between Sanikiluaq and Iqaluit last year.

Logistical challenges

Prior to the pilot project, the government would rely on chartered flights to get to the community.

Nunavut's Minister of Economic Development and Transportation had previously said the territorial government spent about $11,000 a week on charter flights to and from Sanikiluaq, mostly for government workers.

"This reliance on charter operations further restricts the ability of GN departments to provide adequate services to Sanikiluaq," read an emailed statement from the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs on Tuesday.

"Many services have been curtailed or delayed due to the logistical challenges and high cost of chartering aircraft, and several departments have received complaints that their level of service delivery in Sanikiluaq is below that of other communities."