Among the gentle rolling hills and lush tundra valleys of Frobisher Bay on Nunavut’s Baffin Island pops a sleek, bright red façade. This state-of-the-art, four-year-old terminal building is known as Iqaluit International Airport (YFB) and represents a lifeline to the community and surrounding region.
The airport, which is managed and operated by Nunavut Airport Services Limited under the umbrella of Winnipeg Airports Authority’s subsidiary Winnipeg Airport Services Corp. (WASCO), plays a critical role in connecting people and transporting goods. Situated on the far western edge of Nunavut, the single-runway airport is a hub of activity serving all two million square kilometres of the vast northern territory.
“Iqaluit is the doorway to The North,” said Pierre Payette, Service Director for Nunavut Airport Services Limited. “The airport here is a critical component for the community and for the hamlets. For many, flying is the only means of transportation.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 172,000 passengers moved through Iqaluit International Airport in 2019. Traffic slowed slightly as government-imposed travel restrictions came into effect, however, as a critical northern transportation hub, the airport was still busy.
Many residents living in remote regions of Nunavut travel through the terminal each day as they make their way to and from medical visits or vital appointments. The airport also facilitates the movement of essential workers helping to support the territory, such as healthcare professionals or construction crews.
Equally as crucial as the Iqaluit International Airport’s ability to efficiently move passengers is its cargo sector. Nearly every flight landing or taking off from the airstrip is carrying cargo. The only other way to move goods into the territory is by boat, which is only possible a few months of the year when the sea isn’t frozen solid. Planes deliver everything from food and medicine to clothing and even snowmobiles to keep isolated communities well stocked.
While Iqaluit International Airport serves the territory through transportation, it also supports the economic growth of the region by providing diverse jobs. All but one of the 38 employees working for Nunavut Airport Services Limited live in Iqaluit and are part of the community. The organization also runs apprenticeship programs for residents, helping to provide them with valuable skills. They receive coaching to obtain their territorial driver’s license, operate heavy equipment and are trained in various trades.
“We’re extremely proud to contribute to the development of the region,” said Payette. “The people here greatly depend on us. In talking with residents, they know without the airport, Iqaluit and Nunavut would be in a very difficult position. They’re thankful for all we do.”
It’s through this small piece of appreciation and gratitude that shows just how integral Iqaluit International Airport is to the community and its connection to the rest of the country.