Airlines’ schedule changes in Churchill, overbooking in Shamattawa frustrating communities’ leaders

Leaders of a pair of Northern Manitoba communities say they are unhappy with how decisions being made by a pair of Exchange Income Corporation (EIC)-owned airlines.

Churchill’s Mayor Michael Spence issued a community update Oct. 29 saying that Calm Air had changed its flight schedule to the Hudson Bay port town and had ended daily 737 jet service (which was operated by First Air, according to Calm Air’s website).

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“We are seeking further clarification regarding the airline’s decision to end its daily 737 jet service to Churchill,” said Spence. “We understand daily service is continuing but route changes will be made in the coming weeks. This will also impact Kivalliq connections to Churchill.”

Spence said he and council have contacted government partners to discuss the decision as they are concerned about the levels of service the town can expect from Calm Air in the future and also services to the Kivalliq region of Nunavut.

“We have commenced discussions with several air carriers and expect to have discussions with others in the coming weeks,” Spence said. The town is also working on infrastructure upgrades at the Churchill Airport.

“Our partners firmly believe Churchill is in the midst of a period of renewed investment and growth,” Spence wrote. “With the renewed rail infrastructure and long-term investment, we are confident the Churchill will continue to play a pivotal role in supporting the broader region. We will further engage with partners regarding this decision and we look forward to building new partnerships with airline and other transportation providers to support and grow with our community, businesses and region.”

Shamattawa First Nation Chief Eric Redhead said Oct. 30 that Perimeter Aviation is making a habit of overbooking flights from his community resulting in members of the First Nation missing important medical appointments.

Shmattawa is one of 16 First Nations and communities in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario who have signed partnership agreements with Perimeter Aviation identifying it as their preferred provider of air transportation.

“We have had to resort to chartering private planes so that our citizens can access medical appointments. This comes at great expense to the First Nation and these are funds that are needed in other areas,” said Redhead. “Two to four people are cancelling and trying to rebook their important medical procedures on a daily basis. Elders are booked for surgeries, babies have appointments with specialists, and the community is at a loss as to what to do because we do have an ongoing, binding agreement with Perimeter Aviation. This large corporation, which profits almost entirely off orthern First Nations, is letting us down.”

Flights between Winnipeg and Shamattawa operate six days a week but Redhead says they are usually overbooked and that residents are sometimes forced to reschedule medical appointments months down the line as a result. Shamattawa is a remote fly-in community without land transportation connecting it to the rest of the province except during the winter road season.

“We demand better and our citizens deserve better,’ said Redhead. “The overbooked flights and unreliable service is absolutely putting our members’ lives on the line. First Nations people already have worse health and a lower life expectancy than all other Manitoba residents. We must address this immediately. We absolutely need to see action on this matter. Now it is time for the federal government to step in because health is a treaty right. I call on the federal government to investigate this matter to help us ensure that our citizens can exercise their treaty right to accessing medical services.”

Nickel Belt News inquiries to EIC about the schedule changes in Churchill and overbooking of flights from Shamattawa have not yet been answered. Perimeter did give a statement to  CityNews Winnipeg regarding the situation in Shamattawa that said, "Earlier this year we added capacity and more recently we have provided the nursing station the ability to book directly in our reservation system providing real time access to our flight inventory. We meet on an ongoing basis with Shamattawa chief and council as part of our service to the community and have a meeting scheduled to understand their concerns."

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