We all got a "rude" shock
Looking back on a decade of change in the air industry

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 21/97) - Ottawa's cutbacks have come as a "rude and painful shock to everyone in the North," says NWT Transport Minister Jim Antoine.

In a prepared speech delivered to the 21st annual general meeting of the Northern Air Transport Association general meeting in Yellowknife Monday, Antoine said change is "difficult but it is not bad."

The last 10 years have been a period of sweeping change wherever we look, internationally, nationally, regionally and locally, Antoine said.

The air industry has been in the thick of change with national deregulation, free trade, open skies, commercialization of airports and the air navigation system.

The NWT is also engaged in an extensive period of change as the federal government has reduced its financial arrangement, he said. On top of that, there is the fact the NWT will be divided in less than two years.

To see the way through this, both government and the air transport industry must look to fundamentals, he said. That means re-examining geography, demographics and economics.

Passengers and cargo will take the most direct and least expensive flights to reach their destinations, he said. And to achieve this companies must use the most cost effective aircraft.

The other fundamental is that airports must operate safely.

The biggest change in the industry that has attracted the attention of airlines is the community empowerment program, which is decentralizing government decision-making and program delivery to communities, he said.

"Empowerment will enable communities to accept difficult choices that they have made for themselves in light of their own priorities and not those of central and distant government apparatus," his prepared speech stated.

Air carriers should notice little difference, he said. Most communities have been running their own airports for the past decade or more.

As a result, Northern communities will have fewer difficulties assuming control of airports than southern cities and towns, he said.

The idea behind community empowerment is to combine functions and save money.

Communities are always asking the government to extend runways and they appreciate the importance of their airports to their people, so Antoine did not think money would be diverted for other purposes.

Some communities want longer runways to handle jets as they see it as an opportunity to increase tourism, he said.

Community empowerment will demand that government and the airline industry work closer with towns, but the transport ministry will continue to provide technical support to towns.