Residents of three northwestern Ontario communities will have fewer travel options starting this spring.
Bearskin Airlines, a division of Winnipeg-based Perimeter Aviation, announced this week that service to Dryden, Kenora, and Fort Frances will be discontinued as of May 11.
"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," Perimeter said in a media release. "Over the last year, the three destinations saw an average of two passengers per flight, reflecting the drastic reduction in demand for air travel in the region overall."
Perimeter also said service to Thunder Bay, Red Lake and Sioux Lookout will continue.
Dryden Mayor Jack Harrison said the town was notified of Perimeter's decision on Friday.
"Our CAO and our airport manager actually went to Perimeter air in late 2023 to discuss about how we can improve ridership and service to Dryden," he said. "The response was this email on Friday saying they're pulling out.
"So very disappointing that we weren't able to work with them to provide any solutions. Time now to put our heads together and see if we can attract another service into Dryden."
Hopes of attracting another regional service
Harrison said he hopes Dryden can work with Kenora and Fort Frances to bring another regional air service to the area.
"We have a stream of investors coming in and looking different opportunities in our area. There is a lot of exploration and mining in [the] Dryden, Kenora, Fort Frances area.
"About a year from now, Treasury Metals will announce whether or not they're going to go ahead with their gold mine. Kenora has a lithium project that looks very promising," Harrison added.
"There's a lot of development in the works right now, so we were disappointed that Perimeter would pull out at this time and not try to work with us to continue service."
No public carrier creates 'a dire situation'
Fort Frances Mayor Andrew Hallikas said the discontinuation of flights will also have an impact on health care.
"We here in the north have difficulty recruiting and retaining medical professionals, doctors in particular," he said. "We don't have enough physicians to staff our emergency room. We rely on locums, and locums, of course, need to be able to fly in and out of our community."
In addition, Hallikas noted, residents often have to leave Fort Frances for specialized medical treatment."If they're in a hurry or if it's dire, they'll take a commercial flight, they'll fly Bearskin," he said. "So those are very concerning issues."
Hallikas said he's raising the issue with the federal and provincial governments, and is open to forming a coalition with Dryden and Kenora.
"I think the idea of a coalition sounds very good, because clearly Dryden and Kenora are in the same situation," he said. "Maybe by working together, we can entice a company to come in to service the three communities.
"We're pretty much open to anything. We need to get a regular public carrier in here. It does create a dire situation in three northern communities."