April 21, 2022

Chibougamau-Chapais Airport poised to resume normal operations

Jon Robinson

Mayor of Chapais, Isabelle Lessard. (Photo: Guy Tremblay)

― By Denis Lord, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, La Sentinelle

Sources say the airport’s runways should resume operations from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. within a few weeks, after having been interrupted since March 12. Administrators at the Ministry of Transport confirmed to La Sentinelle that a shortage of personnel forced the airport to shorten daily operations to 12 hours since March 12. Lack of staff had been an ongoing issue since December 2021. Upon the airport’s partial closure, the Ministry had stated that the airport would need to hire a clerk and a manager before runways could again be operational 24 hours a day.

The Ministry claims to have deployed every effort possible to fill the vacant positions. A service contract was awarded to Aéropro, a company specialized in airport management and personnel training, in order to fill these specialized positions.

“Considering that this first contract ended on March 27, 2022, and that the situation was still unresolved, the Ministry awarded another contract—this time to Octant Aviation—in accordance with the Ministry’s contractual policies,” wrote a communications department spokesperson to La Sentinelle.

A job posting for the clerk position can still be found on the government’s Web site, but candidates for both positions are currently undergoing training. Normal operating hours should resume once this training is complete. On March 29, the Ministry of Transport spokesperson estimated this would take a month.

In 2021-2022, the Centre régional de santé et de services sociaux de la Baie-James (CRSSSBJ) recorded 271 patient transfers by airplane. The organization does not have statistics on how many flights took place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. during this period. In general, clinical teams try to avoid night transfers. In order to mitigate the effects of the closure, the CRSSSBJ has been prioritizing helicopter transfers. The exact number of helicopter flights since the airport’s partial closure is not available, but it is estimated to be small. The impact has not been major at this point.

“For the general population, it may not seem significant, but for workers and health establishments, this is a major issue,” commented Chapais Mayor Isabelle Lessard. “Our business community is worried. We understand that labour is scarce everywhere, but the situation is very concerning. The airport is an important service, maybe even critical. We want services to be maintained.”

On March 22, Mayor Lessard and her Chibougamau colleague Manon Cyr had an opportunity to discuss their concerns with Ungava M. N. A. Denis Lamothe and Transport Minister François Bonnardel. “We were assured that they are working on resolving the issue and are aware of the impacts of this closure,” indicated Mrs. Lessard. At the time of this exchange, the airport’s reopening was planned for April 11.