By Ian Ross
The spirit of Wasaya Airways is soaring into 21 First Nations communities beginning in July as the Thunder Bay-based carrier takes over some former Bearskin Airlines northern routes.
The Aboriginally-owned carrier is completing a transaction with Bearskin Airlines to acquire its routes and assets, north of Red Lake and Sioux Lake in making its entry into regular scheduled passenger service.
"It's a big step for us and it's a big challenge, but I think it's a step in the right direction for Wasaya," says company president Tom Morris from Thunder Bay.
The transaction was finalized June 30. No terms of the deal were disclosed.
Commencing July 2, Wasaya began flying to the northern routes through a phased approach scheduled for completion by month's end.
The agreement is the completion of a transaction under Wasaya Airlines, who will provide passenger service to 21 First Nations communities located north of Sioux Lookout and Red Lake, Ont.
Wasaya is acquiring a hanger property and two PC-12 Pilatus aircraft from Bearskin as part of the transaction, thereby boosting its aircraft fleet to 19.
Wasaya currently employs about 200 people, but should pick up between 80 and 90 former Bearskin employees with the deal.
Morris says as a result of expansion of roads and hydro lines into many remote communities, a lot of Wasaya's primary freight business has been threatened. The move into regularly scheduled passenger service should ensure the carrier will keep flying for years to come.
"We're looking at this as a long-term initiative to ensure the survival of Wasaya Airways," says Morris, who entered into negotiations with Bearskin 22 months ago.
Prior to that, Wasaya had been considering starting a rival passenger service. Currently the 17-year-old airline serves 35 communities in northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba.
Bearskin will continue flying into Red Lake, Kenora, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay south, and Wasaya will have a commercial agreement of a working relationship between both parties.
The deal will be formally consumated with a traditional signing ceremony at Bearskin Lake First Nation on July 9.
"Bearskin started there 35 years ago so its symbolic in nature we go do the signing ceremony there."
Morris would not comment if the airline has further acquisitions in the fire.
"We'll just take things one step at a time."