This year, the biggest bush charter operator of Quebec, Air Saguenay (AS), declared bankruptcy after biologists in 2018 controversially pressed the QC Government to ban caribou hunting, which was the biggest source of income for the northern part of the province. As a side benefit, Air Saguenay’s float planes bases were the only source of fuel for anyone flying north of the Saguenay River. Closing them meant a major impact on flying for anyone venturing into the wild regions of ‘La belle province’.
A ray of hope – In recent weeks Air Tunilik, a smaller company, has come to the rescue of northern regions by wanting to keep some of AS’s float plane bases open, to continue bush operations and be there for private pilots wanting to explore these remote regions. They have negotiated a salvage deal with outgoing Air Saguenay to acquire, on a lease-to-purchase basis, some of their bases for 2020 and beyond.
As it stands, Air Tunilik would not only be Quebec’s largest bush operator with eight aircraft, it would also have access to a number of strategically placed float plane bases. Many organizations and people depend on the company to access Quebec’s remote northern regions.
But with COVID-19 restrictions between regions and outfitters seeing out-of-province and out-of-country tourists cancelling their trips, Air Tunilik hopes to be able to provide the service not only for next summer but for the upcoming years as well.
However, there will be challenges. Simon Contant, the 31-year-old pilot and president of Air Tunilik who has been heading up the back-country operator for six years, cites its recent acquisition of troubled Air Saguenay assets as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic for the company’s current financial hardship.
“Our bases at Lac Louise, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Natashquan, Wabush and Pourvoirie Mirage in James Bay will soon start their season. Those of Lac Pau and Sept-Îles remain to be confirmed,” Contant told the Montreal newspaper Le Journal de Montréal.
“Quebeckers must realize that we have beaches here. We have outfitters and places even more beautiful than the resorts of down South, or the cruise ships that cram 4,000 people on the same boat,” Contant added.
The company serves more than 30 back-country outfitters, who rely on the air carrier not only for supplies, but for the transportation needs of the outfitters themselves and their clients. Contant is seeking financial help in any form to keep these aerial roads open “We need $5 million in government assistance. Right now, I’m getting help from private loans, but if things don’t work out by December, I’m going to have to give up,” says Contant.
Photo credit: Air Tunilik