Fuel and personnel shortages – aviation crisis in the Arctic | Polarjournal
In Nunavut and the other Arctic regions of Canada, planes are the only means of long-distance transportation. Goods and people cannot reach many of the places like Pond Inlet in a fast way. But that requires fuel, personnel and maintained machines. (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

Long waiting times, cancelled connections, missing baggage, delays, high prices: Flying currently resembles more of a lottery than a reliable means of transportation. This is certainly not how the airlines and travelers had imagined the new start after the pandemic. And the Arctic regions have not been spared the problems either, as a look at Svalbard, Greenland and Nunavut show.

Aircraft are the main means of long-distance transportation in Canada, the world’s second-largest country. Especially for the infrastructure-weak Arctic north, the flying machines are vital. This is because they quickly bring goods and people from the urban centers in the south back to the north. Whether it’s for medical care, education, work, or simply to visit relatives and friends or go on vacation, virtually everything in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon is done by plane or at least helicopter. It is true that the shipping lines are also an important supply route for the hamlets most of which are located on the coast. But trips take longer, so airlines promise faster supplies. This dependence on aviation is an Achilles heel for communities. This is because due to the current geopolitical situation, where fuel has become a weapon of trade, the few airlines are suffering from fuel shortages and massively increased prices.

Iqaluit serves as a hub for flights from Canada’s south to Nunavut’s Arctic north. Now, services to four northern locations and Toronto are canceled because the airline, Canadian North, is short on resources and fuel. Image: Quintin Soloviev Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0

Canadian North, the largest airline connecting Nunavut and the Northwest Territories with major cities in the south, announced a few days ago that, on the one hand, it is closing the new service between Toronto and Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, now, instead of at the end of September, due to aircraft and staff shortages elsewhere. The company had been operating the flights since the beginning of June and had expected a greater demand than had remained in the end.

But even worse, the company has also had to cut service from Iqaluit to four communities further north, both in the number of flights and seats. Some flights had to make unscheduled stopovers. Canadian North cites fuel shortages at the four locations as the reason. According to an airline statement, the supplier itself had not received enough fuel to deliver to the locations in time. It hopes to restore fuel to the airfields in the coming weeks so that regular services can resume. However, the measures met with sometimes fierce criticism from the population, as could be seen from comments in the social media. In addition to the flight cancellations, the airline’s pricing policy and lack of government support were criticized.

In Greenland, too, the main and largest airline, Air Greenland, has to take unpopular measures to cushion the fuel situation with excessively high prices and insufficient availability. More expensive ticket prices are the result, much to the displeasure of the population. Image: Kevin McGwin

In Greenland, the national airline Air Greenland is also facing a similar problem. The fuel supplier responsible for supplying specific aviation fuel to the international airport in Kangerlussuaq is unable to meet its obligation due to problems in the supply chain. It is not yet clear when more fuel can be expected again. To solve the problem until then, planes will have to take on as much fuel as they can at other locations where they land. But unlike Canada, officials have issued instructions not to eliminate any seats or cargo on the plane in order to fill up more fuel.

On the other hand, this approach means that operating costs for Air Greenland will increase. And that will almost certainly be reflected in ticket prices for passengers. An announcement to this effect is widely expected, even if it comes at an inopportune time. Because soon the Christmas travel business will start, when many Greenlanders want to travel to Denmark and other places. In addition, transport prices elsewhere have also increased by up to ten times, which is slowly but surely causing prices in Greenland to rise for certain products for the population.

UPDATE: According to the Greenlandic newspaper Sermitsiaq, Air BP (a subsidiary of oil giant BP), the company responsible for supplying specific aircraft fuel, has stated that there is no fuel shortage in Kangerlussuaq, but that there are sufficient reserves. However, a more detailed explanation of the circumstances was not given by the company.

On Svalbard, passenger numbers have increased massively again this summer. But at the same time, airport operators and airlines are struggling with staff shortages, strikes and other problems that had brought air traffic to a standstill in some cases. Photo: Heiner Kubny

Svalbard could actually celebrate a resurrection this summer after the archipelago had been starved of tourists for almost two years. Nearly 22,000 passengers arrived in Longyearbyen in July alone, a 168 percent increase over the same month of last year. The number of charter flights was doubled compared to before the pandemic, the airport manager told the media. This was especially due to the strike of the SAS pilots, who had not operated any flights to and from Longyearbyen for weeks. The thousands of cruise guests who were to board their ships in Longyearbyen were therefore transported to the far north by charter flights.

But that, in turn, meant even more stress and hectic for the airport staff. And personnel were scarce in Longyearbyen, mainly because there were hardly any accommodations available for the seasonally employed men and women. The lack of staff, in turn, sometimes meant major problems for passengers with their luggage, some of which did not arrive and in some cases even remained missing for weeks, as we had been informed firsthand. In another case, the airline left all the luggage of guests of a voyage so that it could transport food for the ship instead, according to the local newspaper Svalbardposten. An improvement in the situation for next year is the hope, and this, as is well known, dies last.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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