Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Air North president Joe Sparling,

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

AFTERNOON ARRIVAL – An Air North plane taxis to the terminal at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport on Tuesday afternoon. COVID-19 is prompting major operational changes at the airline.

Airlines pares staff in wake of plumetting demand

Air North is reducing flights and staff as the number of travellers plummets in the wake of COVID-19.

By Gabrielle Plonka on March 24, 2020

Air North is reducing flights and staff as the number of travellers plummets in the wake of COVID-19.

“If our flying is half or less than what it was before, you would expect workforce reductions of that magnitude as well,” Joe Sparling, Air North’s president, told the Star this morning.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s chief medical officer, officially recommended the suspension of non-essential travel last Sunday evening, on the same day the territory discovered its first two cases.

Air North’s passenger traffic dropped 35 per cent in March and is likely to drop 70 per cent in April, Sparling said.

The company is working on reducing flights to balance sinking numbers.

“People are cancelling faster than we can adjust,” Sparling said.

“We’re finally getting caught up to where we think we’re going to be at a stable level of demand.”

Air North is planning for six jet flights to Vancouver per week, nixing flights to Vancouver Island and elsewhere.

There will also be one flight per day within the territory to Dawson City, Old Crow and Inuvik. These regional flights will carry groceries and mail, as well as passengers. 

Sparling said some staff members have already been laid off and the process is ongoing.

Last week, Premier Sandy Silver urged all Yukoners outside of the territory to return home as soon as possible.

Sparling noted there is currently a higher number of people flying into the territory than out of it, due to people following that recommendation.

Air North is attempting to manage capacity on flights, to enable physical distancing, without causing booking delays. Sparling said the airline has the option of intentionally blocking middle seats on planes from being sold.

“You want to accommodate people who want to get home, so it’s a bit of a challenge for sure,” Sparling said.

“Ultimately, we’ll be down to a reduced ridership on the aircraft so we can provide physical distancing.”

Sparling said Air North is waiting to hear what supports will be provided to the airline industry from the federal government.

Across the board, airlines are requesting rebates and the return of infrastructure fees and taxes, like NavCanada fees and jet fuel taxes.

He noted the territorial government has already committed to waiving some fees, but there is uncertainty about how much support Air North can expect.

Silver told the Star this morning that Air North is on his radar as he works to establish funding from the federal government. 

Sparling said that a month ago, he imagined traffic would drop 10 per cent due to COVID-19. He is now facing losses seven times greater than that.

“It’s very concerning,” he said.

“We will get through it, but we have to become a smaller airline almost overnight.”

Sparling noted that when the virus subsides, it will take some time before people start travelling again. This will mean a delay in improvement for airlines.

“The whole industry is going to be faced with less air travel for quite some time now,” Sparling said.

“It’s a new situation almost every day.”

Comments (14)

Up 15 Down 0

Bruce oakley on Mar 28, 2020 at 10:08 am

Unfortunately it's happening all over the world, let's hope all stays safe in this world wide crisis, let's make the right decisions, let's live and be happy.

Up 45 Down 0

Maureen N on Mar 27, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Whatever else the government supports or subsidizes during this medical crisis I think that they should do whatever is necessary to keep Air North flying with adequate routes and staff. Fantastic airline, fantastic people and we need them.

Up 47 Down 6

Capitan on Mar 26, 2020 at 4:28 pm

Air North is one of the best things that ever happened to the Yukon. And Joe Sparling has never displayed any sense of entitlement.

Up 82 Down 0

SH on Mar 26, 2020 at 9:01 am

Dear iBrian,

I didn't get the impression that Sparling was complaining about taking a hit. I think he was wanting to show people the sad reality of why they were downsizing and laying off staff.

I also didn't get the impression that Sparling was whining about a bail-out. And if the federal government was offering a "hand out" to airlines, why wouldn't Sparling want to take advantage of that? It would be good for Air North as much as it would be good for our economy and for all the staff that could be re-hired.

If any airline deserves some compensation, it's Air North. I could write a book about how they've given back to the community.

Up 18 Down 43

iBrian on Mar 25, 2020 at 2:05 pm

The 15% Death rate is of solved cases.
Not pending cases with no resolution yet.
It’s 15% of known cases solved not global population.
The link I attached shows.

@North of 60, wish I had the time you do, hopefuly your name is a play on your age.

I live in the Yukon yes, I support Air North because of their service. My chickens, And other freight come up on Air North. I ship frozen meat and use Air North 100% of the time. I fly to Ottawa regularly.
I also work in Tourisim, so looks like I will not be busy this summer. Talk about living off the land.

My problem with this whole bail out crap is most Canadians are not financially responsible.
My problem is the Banks use your Gross income for loans and not your Net after taxes. That’s what’s put Canadians into this tight financial situation. But their gonna need help.
My problem is the Stock Market is crashing and no one seems to recognize that.
My problem is we’re like 3 weeks into this and that’s basically 1.5 pay periods and doesn’t seem many Canadians have 3 months of bills set aside in a savings account.
So poor financial responsibility,
If we learn anything from this it is to be more financially responsible in the future.
Now our government has committed my grandchildren to pay back this debt.
If we all had 3 months of our bills saved up, the country wouldn’t need this.
It’s Frickin Embarrassing. People don’t seem to have much Self Respect or ability to be responsible for themselves. Everyone’s got their hands out. Help me help me.
So pathetic

Up 84 Down 5

Greiko on Mar 25, 2020 at 10:05 am

@Brian...I regret you feel that way but if you live in The Yukon you are getting a subsidy in itself, Northern Tax Benefit. Most businesses and the like are highly subsidized by big brother in Ottawa, look at our record transfer payment circa 2020. You can only thank Air North for their above standard service and they are THE main reason flying from here to YVR or YYC is no longer $1500.

Up 19 Down 73

John on Mar 25, 2020 at 8:09 am

Why did the paper only interview the airline for this story? What about the officials at Health and Social Services? What about the passengers that watched Air North fill a plane from Edmonton with over 100 passengers? Aren’t we supposed to take actions that prevent the spread of COVID-19? Sorry Joe, by squeezing people into the seats you aren’t looking out for Yukoners, you may actually be their biggest threat. The paper should be looking out for its readers, not its advertisers.

Up 75 Down 2

Rosemarie Gassner on Mar 24, 2020 at 8:16 pm

Thanks for bringing one child back to Whitehorse from Vancouver, and one from Dawson to Whitehorse. Both are happy to be home with their Mom and Dad before The Yukon gets hit. Hats off to all of you from Airport staff and Air North who are risking themselves and their families health to help our families be back together during this difficult time.

Up 43 Down 2

Rick on Mar 24, 2020 at 6:46 pm

iBrian... 15% death rate? Please provide a direct link to that number. And... is that globally or a specific region? Accurate statistics representation matters, people are already uneasy enough.

Up 51 Down 11

Lorne Christensen on Mar 24, 2020 at 5:19 pm

I believe it is time for partial re-regulation of the airline industry in the north.There are many smaller airlines, as well as three main airlines: Air North in the Yukon, Canadian Airlines in the NWT and first Air in Nunavut. All of these airlines serve smaller northern communities and have established an operation network in a harsh and expensive environment. They do, however have one bonus route being their gateway routes to and from the south.The gateway airports of Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqualuit. All with full air traffic approach facilities and long paved runways so no special training is required I believe it is time that these should be protected from the predatory practices of any southern airline from cherry picking these routes such as prime times an sometimes only in the summer months. These airline have nothing invested in and have no intention of ever serving the people and communities of the north. This uncertain time would be a good time for the federal government to act.

Up 46 Down 2

North_of_60 on Mar 24, 2020 at 4:13 pm

@iBrian, please learn how to read information tables correctly so you don't spread more misinformation by claiming a 15% death rate. From the table at the link you cited: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
53.6 total cases per million population is 0.00536 %
2.4 total deaths per million population is 0.00024 %
deaths per case for globally is 4.45%
For Italy the hardest hit and likely the worst prepared-
1144 total cases per million population is 0.1144 %
113 total deaths per million population is 0.0113 %
deaths per case for Italy is 9.9%

Up 53 Down 2

JC on Mar 24, 2020 at 4:05 pm

Ibrian, where did you get the 15% death rate from? Check your figures.

Up 172 Down 15

drum on Mar 24, 2020 at 3:31 pm

We have to support our Local Airline - Air North - through this difficult time. They are our special life line to the rest of the world. We have been so proud of them from the beginning. Mr. Sparling and his employees do a wonderful job. We have to help them to recover from this terrible time.

Up 27 Down 133

iBrian on Mar 24, 2020 at 2:23 pm

Hey Joe, everyone’s taking a hit. Our government must make sure there's food security and medical services.
Maybe once the economy recovers, we get to bailing out high profit companies who took a hit. Especially ones who have Government Contracts to haul fuel and supplies to remote communities who are federally subsidized for their heating fuels, and also own 49% of the hauler that provides the service with money that Taxpayers provide.
I fly Air north all the time, but man, when Joe Sparlings hand is going out for a hand out. That’s a sign of how bad things are going to get boys and girls.
For now, it’s best to realize we’re up a creek with no paddle and times are gonna get real tough before they get better.
See where our population is at once a vaccine is created. But at 15% death rate. (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
Multiply that by the population.
I think we best just all tighten our belts and be ready to actually work for a cheque when we can start moving around again.
Until then, hope to see you all at the after party

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