"We were lucky that our business is mining focused, because unlike many airlines that had to shut down or reduce staff by 50% percent, our business activity remained buoyant."
How has Nolinor navigated the challenges of operating an airline during a pandemic?
We were lucky that our business is mining focused, because unlike many airlines that had to shut down or reduce staff by 50% percent, our business activity remained buoyant. This is a testament to our mining clients, who were very well structured and able to adapt, setting a system in place to continue their operations. We fly for Agnico Eagle, and they were very proactive in putting forward a testing program for their workers. People were getting tested at the airport, and we were flying with the highest level of safety with respect to COVID-19 prevention.
In the end, we did not see any drop-off in our mining related flights. In fact, we were able to continue our growth by adding a contract for the Minerai De Fer, a mining operation in Wabush. We fly there every Tuesday and Wednesday with our Boeing 737-400, an aircraft we added last year to our fleet. We now have three 737-400's, which seat about 156 passengers. We have also been receiving requests over the last few months, so we are expecting to have other mining contracts in the coming months.
What makes Nolinor’s aircraft well suited for mining customers?
We have two markets. One of the markets is the mining industry, and the other is charter flights. In July of 2020 we launched a new brand called OWG targeting southern destinations, such as Cuba, Florida and Mexico. Nobody was launching new airlines last year, but we bought three Boeing 737-400’s, completely stripped down the interior, installed brand new seats, with a new paint scheme, new design, and new lights. Unfortunately, COVID-19 spiked, and we had to shut down those flights. The silver lining was that we took those aircraft and we started to showcase them in the mining industry. Thus far, the feedback has been very positive. As a result, we now have to bring more aircraft into the fleet, because once the pandemic passes, some of our mining clients want to continue to keep those 400 aircraft under contract.
Can you provide an update on Nolinor’s service in the Yellowknife area?
We have an aircraft that is based in Yellowknife. It is a full freighter 737-200, and that is our most active aircraft, because of all the mining contracts leaving from Yellowknife. It is the hub for many of the northern destinations for the mining industry. We are offering service for five to six projects over there, and we are flying almost every day. We also do ice strip landings where we land on frozen lakes. Overall, the year was strong in Yellowknife as well, with a slight uptick in flights.
With respect to aviation services, have you seen an evolution in the priorities of mining companies given the current strong commodity price environment?
Over the last few years, the main incentive was pricing. Mining companies were looking for very cheap, low-cost service. The industry is now realizing there can be a lack of efficiency that comes with those type of services. Nolinor's long term vision has always been to invest in better avionics systems, better real time in-flight tracking devices, real time sat phone communication with our crew, and a centralized database to be able to provide real time information for departure times and passenger tracking. All those investments come with a price tag. Nolinor's prices were never the cheapest in the market, but our on time departure rate was always around 98-98.5%. If you are saying that your flight is going to leave at 7:00 am, and it leaves at 10:30am, you are losing money at the mine, because those workers are not working, or you are paying people overtime. Choosing an airline that is consistently on time, has huge benefits. People now see this more and more, and they understand that the aircraft is not only about going from point A to point B, but it is about leaving on time from point A, and making sure that you are getting to point B safely. That is our mindset at Nolinor Aviation. The questions we are now getting from the industry are less related to price, and more about the systems that we are putting in place.