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Tahltan company strikes up northwest B.C. air service joint venture

A Tahltan Nation-owned corporation is continuing to expand its business interests – this time by striking a joint venture with B.C.-based Pacific Coastal Airlines.

The idea is to provide chartered services from southern locations direct to Dease Lake, says Tahltan Nation Development Corporation chief executive officer Garry Merkel.

The attraction is that Pacific Coastal can provide a variety of aircraft tailored to a company's flight needs, he said.

“With the amount of activity now taking place, we feel we can meet a need,” Merkel continued of the new relationship.

At the moment only Northern Thunderbird Air offers service into Dease Lake and that's to and from Smithers three times a week from spring to fall, he said.

It means Dease Lake passengers first have to fly into Smithers and depart from Smithers on another airline.

A direct charter service into Dease Lake would save time, a valuable commodity in the business world, Merkel noted.

“With depending upon scheduled flights and timing, you might need to wait and you might need to take a hotel room. We can offer flexibility,” he said.

But Merkel did caution that the new joint venture has to make financial sense for companies wishing to charter an aircraft by matching or coming close to the cost of a scheduled service.

“What we're looking at is being competitive with a [flight] package somewhere in the range of four to five people,” said Merkel.

And the joint venture also has bigger flights in mind, particularly from resource companies who need to fly workers in and out on shift changes.

“Yes. We have been having discussions with some of the majors up here and are looking for commitments. They've been saying they are willing to work with us as long as we're competitive,” said Merkel.

He acknowledged that Imperial Metals, which is nearly finished its Red Chris copper and gold mine on Tahltan traditional territory, is on the joint venture's business contact list.

Pacific Coastal's fleet of aircraft with the capability of carrying up to seven people in its King Airs, 19 people in a Beechcraft 1900, and 30 people in a SAAB 340 provides a choice for companies, said Merkel.

Eventually, said Merkel, the joint venture will work toward hiring and training Tahltan citizens for various jobs within the airline industry.

In the long term, what's needed is a more scheduled service connecting Dease Lake to points south during the winter months, particularly for residents needing to travel for medical reasons, said Merkel.

“Now people either fly into Smithers or Terrace or even Whitehorse,” added Merkel of how the trip is made to Dease Lake. “Done either way [from Smither or Terrace], that's about seven hours by road.”

 

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