Northwestern may fill passenger void

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Northwestern Air is currently training three pilots in hopes of being able to bring passenger service back to Peace River in the near future.

Northern Air discontinued passenger service to the Peace River Airport in January, leaving an opening for a new service provider.

Northwestern Air, which is based in Fort Smith, NWT, is interested in offering passenger services to Peace River in Northern Air’s place.

Peace River town council reviewed a briefing on the ongoing negotiations between Northwestern Air and the Town at their March 9 council meeting.

The Town has been in contact with Brian Harrold, the owner of Northwestern Air, since 2017. Airport manager William Stewart and Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey discussed Northwestern Air’s interest in the service with the company in 2017. Council heard CAO Chris Parker has discussed passenger service with Harrold multiple times since, most recently in December 2019, on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7, and again on Feb. 21.

“He still maintains that he is interested in making Peace River part of his flying schedule, but he is still experiencing difficulties in finding pilots as there continues to be a pilot shortage,” Mayor Tom Tarpey says.

“We are of the understanding that he has been offered a very reasonable refueling arrangement with our current aviation fuel provider at the airport, so we are ready to receive NW Airlines.”

While Northwestern had hoped to be able to offer passenger service already, the company has now said they hope to have enough staff for flight crews by the end of May.

Many airlines across Canada have recently been experiencing cancelled bookings and other issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course our discussions with Mr. Harrold was before COVID-19 concerns came to the forefront. This is only going added to the complexity of running an airline, large or small,” Tarpey says.

“So, I think there will be some additional turbulence before things settle down,” he adds.

Northwestern says on the company’s website that another step will be added to their disinfecting processes. The company is also removing their normal change and cancellation policies until April 15.

Northwestern has told the Town it has no problems with the referendum on the future of the airport or the request for proposal process the Town is currently working through to potentially divest from the airport and hand over ownership and operations to a non-profit.

Tarpey says the final decision on the RFP is likely still a month to six weeks away.

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