First-Ever Direct Flight from the Yukon to Toronto: Air North Creates New Possibilities for Northern Communities

Air North celebrates new direct connection to YYZ
Air North celebrates new direct connection to YYZ
Nothing says celebration like cake!
Nothing says celebration like cake!

10MAY, Yukon-based Air North, flight number 4N823, landed at YYZ, becoming the first-ever scheduled direct service between YXY, YZF, and YYZ.

It’s exciting when any airline launches a new route, but Air North’s inaugural service between Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, and Toronto is a gamechanger.

Open Jaw was on hand at Pearson’s T1 as 113 passengers deplaned from the B737 and joined a host of local dignitaries at a reception to celebrate the event.

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Until now, flights between the two cities were costly and often necessitated an overnight in, say, Vancouver. “A direct flight opens up so many opportunities, connecting the Yukon to one of Canada’s greatest business and travel hubs – and the world,” said Yukon’s Premier Sandy Silver who was on the inaugural. The Premier also tipped a hat to Air North’s onboard atmosphere, no doubt helped by the carrier’s trademark cookies, warm from the galley ovens. Passengers included some 20 delegates, government officials and First Nations’ reps.

Founded as a charter carrier for the mining industry and flight training service in 1977, Air North now operates four B737s and smaller 4 ATR 42s.

The Toronto service will be offered eastbound Tuesdays and Thursdays and westbound Wednesdays and Fridays, with a stop in Yellowknife in either direction. Total flying time is 6h20m.

Air North’s founder, Captain Joe Sparling
Air North’s founder, Captain Joe Sparling

And not every airline passenger gets to have the president of the company at the controls, as was the case for the inaugural. Air North’s President and Founder Joe Sparling is not only a captain but also clearly a leader and visionary – albeit a cautious one. “We don’t want to be a big airline,” he told the crowd. “We want to be a small airline, looking after our back yard.” That includes flights to Old Crow, a village near the Alaska border, Dawson City and the NWT’s Inuvik. Routes from Whitehorse to southern Canada include Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.

The seasonal route is expected to not only expand tourism and business travel to Canada’s territories, but holds particular significance to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, from Old Crow, Yukon, who own 49 per cent of Air North, Yukon’s Airline.

As the Yukon’s only community accessible exclusively by air, this route is intended to be a “necessary means” for economic growth, and an important cultural and personal link.

“They carry our food, our mail, our loved ones.”

“Air North, Yukon’s Airline owes our success to key Indigenous and community partnerships, which have allowed us to navigate the many challenges we have encountered during the past 20 years,” said Joe Sparling, President and CEO of Air North, Yukon’s Airline.

“We are pleased to have added Toronto to our network, ensuring residents of the Yukon’s regional communities have seamless and affordable access to the rest of Canada and the world. This will broaden education, sports and cultural horizons for youth, and facilitate regional economic development. We are proud to make the North a better place to live and work.”

Though there are only 40 thousand residents in the Yukon (30,000 of whom are in Whitehorse), a Yukon-based carrier is feasible thanks to the cargo needs, the locals’ propensity for travel, and the need to transport workers in, for example, the mining and construction sectors. Plus the demand from inbound tourists too.

Bonnee Bingham of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation with Stacey Laforme of the Mississauga First Nation
Bonnee Bingham of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation with Stacey Laforme of the Mississauga First Nation

“By providing direct flights between Whitehorse and Toronto, we are in turn connecting Yukon businesses to the country’s biggest economic hub and creating a pathway for people around the world to visit our territory,” Ranj Pillai Minister of Tourism and Culture and Economic Development. “We are thrilled Air North, Yukon’s Airline is able to offer this new service and I look forward to welcoming more visitors to the Yukon and sharing the economic benefits that come with this additional air access.”

Tourism attractions include winter’s northern lights, summer’s midnight sun, and opportunities to learn about First Nations culture. One memorable place to do this is Ivvavik National Park. 5 day packages are available which include airfare, accommodation in spacious tents, all meals, guided walks/hikes and insights into local culture such as mitten-making and carving. “Germans, Koreans – we have travellers from all over the world,” Parks Canada’s Drew Davidson told Open Jaw.

“Proud”

Yukoners are extraordinarily proud of what they evidently see as their carrier – as Chief Commercial Officer Ben Ryan put it, “It’s great to be doing something positive and strategic for the North.”

For more information on Air North, visit its web site.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver
Air North’s Debra Ryan, Manager Strategic Planning & Alliances with Heather Watson, the carrier’s Packaged Products Specialist
Air North’s Debra Ryan, Manager Strategic Planning & Alliances with Heather Watson, the carrier’s Packaged Products Specialist
Attendees were treated to a special performance from the Teechik Dancers, a Vuntut Gwitchin group from Old Crow, Yukon.
Attendees were treated to a special performance from the Teechik Dancers, a Vuntut Gwitchin group from Old Crow, Yukon.

Martha Chapman

Columnist

An OJ columnist since 2006, Martha is responsible for the Biting Questions series as well as special seasonal series. She can often be seen On The Town covering industry events. Known to all in the biz, Martha has worked her entire career in travel, beginning as a teenaged hotel receptionist in Bermuda.

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