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Critically important cargo service supports the north

Ensuring remote northern communities get what they need

For northern communities, freight is a lifeline. 

“We’re doing our utmost to keep the freight moving during COVID,” assures Jim Holm, President of Thunder Airlines.

Timmins, Ontario is the company’s main cargo hub to the north and the airport location that freight is dropped off at. From there, they do daily scheduled flights up the James Bay coast to the communities of Moosonee, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Attawapiskat. Normally they fly twice a week to the far north community of Peawanuck.

The company has other bases in Sudbury and Thunder Bay. Sudbury mainly supports ORNGE, the Medevac operation. Thunder Bay is considered the main base of operations and supports Medevac too, but it also runs charter flights to the north.

Their cargo service business has increased in the last year, running shipments of food and e-commerce. In previous years, pre-COVID, much of the freight consisted of construction materials. 

Right now building in the north has been put on hold as northern communities have been closing their doors, off and on, to passenger traffic—rightly so—in order to keep everyone safe. The only work going on is essential service construction and upkeep. 

The company has reduced the number of scheduled passenger runs; many have been cancelled altogether. It’s a change that has at least been partially offset by the increase they’ve seen in the movement of freight.

“E-commerce is a big part of what everybody does now and the northern communities are definitely on board with that,” says Jim Holm, President. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the one thing that’s held steady is the company’s freight service. “The communities up north have put precautions and lockdowns in place, and even though we have scaled back to a certain extent, thankfully we’ve still been able to provide service and get the cargo to the northern communities we serve,” says Christa Calabrese, Administration Manager.

COVID has obviously changed the airline industry. Many of the company’s services are essential, including the Medevac work they do with ORNGE. 

While the Thunder Bay base may not operate scheduled flights and freight service, customers always have the ability to charter an aircraft. Then you’re guaranteed your cargo and passengers will arrive the same day at the time that you want.

“Due to the reduced number of flights, a lot of the times we would just be doing belly hold cargo on our passenger runs. Right now we’re doing complete freight runs because there isn’t any passenger traffic,” explains Holm. “Our aircraft are also a little bit smaller so it doesn’t take quite as large a load to get it moving.”

This time of year weather delays can happen, meaning someone may not get their package the next day as expected. Staff keep on top of the situation and communicate with customers so they are kept in the loop. As a smaller airline, when they land in the communities they serve, often it’s the pilots themselves who unload the cargo. They build relationships and get to know people by name. It’s a more personal approach that highlights their commitment.

“I like to think we have the best service with a smile,” says Calabrese. “Our staff are exceptional and go the extra mile to make sure that our customers are happy and satisfied.”

Thunder Airlines is also authorized by Transport Canada to haul dangerous goods, depending on the quantity and type. They can accommodate most building materials, including lumber. If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not they can help, simply give them a call. If, for example, you have an oversized item and you’re not sure if it can be shipped, speak with one of their representatives; they are always trying to find a way to accommodate customer requests.

With COVID, they have vigorous screening of passengers in place, as well as strict safety and cleaning protocols. Freight is delivered at the remote airports with minimal community member interaction.

Thunder Airlines is your northern connection, known for their competitive rates, friendly service and attention to detail. For more information, call 1-800-803-9943.