Dryden ready to tackle air challenge: Harrison
January 17, 2024 By Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source
DRYDEN – The City of Dryden’s chief administrative officer and the local airport’s manager are leading efforts to address a pending gap in plane service, Mayor Jack Harrison said Tuesday.
Bearskin Airlines will end its scheduled passenger air service to Dryden, Kenora and Fort Frances in May.
City CAO Roger Nesbitt and the airport manager met with officials from Winnipeg-headquartered Perimeter Aviation, Bearskin’s parent company, in late 2023 to discuss issues of “ridership and reliability,” Harrison said.
The air travel company’s decision last Friday to close down service to Dryden and the other Northwestern Ontario centres “was very disappointing,” he said, but the city luckily already had “a bit of a group” put together to tackle the problem.
Additionally, he said, “there’s opportunity to work together” with Kenora and Fort Frances “to see if we can attract another carrier.
“I mean, there’s a lot of potential to develop in our area,” he said. “We know with Kenora the lithium mine up at Separation Rapids (north of the city) is looking positive, and Goliath Gold is set to make an announcement within a year. So yeah, there’s things in play there.”
A decline in passenger volume since 2020 has made regular flights to those centres economically untenable, according to a news release Monday from Perimeter Aviation.
“Travel levels in Dryden, Kenora and Fort Frances have not rebounded to pre-COVID levels, posing significant challenges to the sustainability of our operations in these communities,” the news release stated.
Fort Frances Mayor Andrew Hallikas said no one in town administration has been assigned to the mission of finding a substitute carrier.
“We are still working on getting all the facts,” Hallikas said in an email to NWOnewswatch.
The airline informed the town by “a very brief letter” of the decision to cease regular passenger service on Friday, he said in a phone interview.
“I can’t really say it was a surprise,” he said. “We had seen with COVID that there were fewer flights coming in, and then the number of flights never really recovered.
“We just went, I think, from three flights daily to just the one flight. And we also knew that ridership was down.”
The town’s CAO has reached out to counterparts in Dryden and Kenora, Hallikas said.
Fort Frances officials have also spoken with Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski about the situation and will be speaking with area MPP Greg Rickford “shortly,” he added.
Harrison said he’s optimistic that Dryden and the other municipalities will find a way to reinstate scheduled air service.
“It’s going to be challenging, though, no doubt about it,” he said. “There’s not a lot of air carriers out there at this point.”