Wally Schumann: Northern Air Transport Association Annual General Meeting Luncheon

Yellowknife — April 30, 2019
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

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Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today during the 43rd AGM Luncheon.

As members and stakeholders of the Northern Air Transport Association, you each understand that aviation is an important industry to Northern Canada. 

Given our vast geography and harsh climate, the Northwest Territories depends greatly on the aviation industry. Air transportation is recognized by the territorial government as an essential component in the implementation of our strategic activities supporting industry, tourism, and the overall quality of life in the North.

In the NWT, our communities and businesses rely on the aviation industry for the safe and reliable delivery of people, goods and services. All three NWT Diamond Mines also rely on the industry. The mines employ thousands of NWT residents and rely on air transportation to get employees to and from sites, for regular resupply support efforts and shipping diamonds outside of the NWT.

Tourism is another sector in the NWT that relies on the aviation industry. Tourists from around the world flock to the NWT year-round.  Between April 2017 and March 2018, approximately 112 thousand tourists visited the NWT, supporting local businesses by spending over 203 million dollars within the Territory. The GNWT recognizes that the aviation industry is key to this success by providing year round connections for tourists to travel to, and within, the NWT. Most recently, the new direct flight from Yellowknife to Vancouver has offered travellers enhanced accessibility, meaning visits to communities beyond our capital city are quicker and easier.

It is an industry that is vital to the economic health of our territory and supporting the health of the aviation industry is equally as important. But how do we do this?

In the Northwest Territories we believe some of the best ways to support the aviation industry is by focusing efforts in the following areas:

  1. Continue to maintain and improve our aviation infrastructure;
  2. Continue to examine ways to increase economic benefits in this industry;
  3. And work with our partners to take action to fill the aviation skills shortage.

In the Northwest Territories we have 27 community airports – all of which are critical to the economic and social well-being of our residents. They provide essential services, including community resupply, air ambulance, search and rescue, forest fire response, and much more. Ongoing improvements to our airports allow for safe and efficient movement of these and other essential goods and services.

When it comes to investing in aviation infrastructure, some of the improvements our airports have, or will be receiving soon include:

  • airfield lighting at the Fort Smith, Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik and Norman Wells airports;
  •  airfield sweeper for the Norman Wells airport;
  • surface rehabilitation at the Sachs Harbour, Tulita, Inuvik, Yellowknife and Norman Wells airports;
  • drainage improvements at the Yellowknife airport; and
  • emergency response and mobile heavy equipment at the Yellowknife, Hay River, and Norman Wells airports.

The GNWT also has a number of funding applications in for approval to continue to make improvements to our airports. Right now we’re waiting for federal funding from the Airport Capital Assistance Program on a snow blower for Fort Smith and Inuvik. As well, funding applications are underway for new airfield lighting in Fort Simpson, an overlay of the Hay River runway, and reconstruction of taxiway C in Inuvik.

With this fiscal support, the Government of Canada is helping to enhance not only safety and efficiency, but also the economic potential of transportation infrastructure in the Northwest Territories.

Perhaps the biggest airport project currently underway is the replacement of the air terminal building in Inuvik. The GNWT has budgeted 30 million dollars for this important infrastructure project that will serve residents and visitors travelling to Inuvik and beyond.

At the Yellowknife Airport, we will continue to invest in improvements to maintain a safe, secure, and prosperous airport.

As I said earlier, the GNWT continues look for ways to increase economic benefits in this industry. That is a critical element in order to ensure the longevity of the industry in the North, and maintaining our relationship with partners will also be vital to its growth and success.

Consistent with this commitment, last fall the Yellowknife Airport held discussions with the City of Yellowknife, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment and NWT Tourism to determine how we could come together to capture new revenue streams associated with cold weather testing. Cold weather testing offers significant opportunity and major economic benefits for the local economy and could significantly increase revenue growth for Yellowknife Airport’s partners, while also creating opportunities to diversify the NWT’s winter tourism markets by developing a new sector of business tourism.

In February of this year the Cold Weather Testing Group developed a partnership with Bell Helicopters that created an opportunity to host 30 engineers and pilots for approximately 90 days in Yellowknife. This group provided a measurable economic boost to Yellowknife.

It is estimated that this one cold-weather testing partnership with Bell Helicopters infused 2.3 million dollars into the local economy and we’re hoping we can build on this success.

In recent months, the Yellowknife Airport Cold Weather Testing Group has also had discussions with Mitsubishi to test their medium-sized jets, and Korean Aerospace Industries has inquired about testing their helicopters here.

In addition, planning efforts are under-way for the development of a preliminary competitor analysis, a marketing framework, and the decision to link the cold-weather testing marketing strategy to Destination Canada's Business Events Canada marketing program for the aerospace industry.

I am confident that we’re on the right track to increase economic benefits and I look forward to seeing what the next few years have in store for our territory.

The final point I want to touch on doesn’t have a simple solution but is equally as important. This is the skills shortage the aviation industry is currently facing. As you all know, in the NWT and all over this country, there is a shortage of pilots and aircraft workers and it is anticipated that these numbers will continue to increase.

Addressing gaps in any industry can be a challenge and takes collaborative efforts. In the NWT, addressing this gap will take support from government, opportunity for local training and industry champions.

One initiative that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment is leading on behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories is the Skills 4 Success initiative. Skills 4 Success is about improving employment success for NWT residents, closing skill gaps for in-demand jobs, and more effectively responding to employer and industry needs.

As for local training, just this month Transport Canada finally certified the Terry Harrold School of Aviation as an approved flying school. The school is located in Fort Smith and was created by Northwestern Air Lease to help the northern resident achieve their pilot licence.

We know from experience that many northerners want the option to train at home and this will give them that option. We also know that flying in the North is unlike anywhere else. This flying school will give students a true sense of what it’s like to fly in our northern skies.

And finally, one way we can all help address the skill shortage is by being champions. When you meet someone who may be interested in a career in aviation we can all be champions by sharing encouraging words.

In the NWT we are fortunate to have many well-known industry champions.

After 60 years as a pilot, Terry Harrold – who started Northwestern Air Lease is still flying scheduled and chartered flights and encouraging the next generation to think about a career as a pilot.

Joe McBryan or ‘Buffalo Joe’ has been flying for just as long. He has been a champion for northern aviation all over the world thanks to some help from his hit TV show Ice Pilots and still continues to encourage, train and employ new pilots and show them the ropes. 

We also have organizations like Skills Canada NWT whose mission is to promote careers in skilled trades and technology to northern youth. They do this through community-based skills clubs and events focused on trades and technology such as their skills competition being held on Friday at the Yellowknife Multiplex.

Over the years, the efforts of NATA to ensure Northern Canada is well represented in the decisions made about the industry have been much appreciated. I believe that your efforts, combined with these and future initiatives provide confidence that this industry will flourish.

The GNWT looks forward to continuing our mutually beneficial partnership and ensuring the safe, secure, accessible, and reliable movement of people and goods throughout the NWT.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you all today. I wish you a pleasant lunch, continued success.