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Air carriers across Nunavut faced fuel shortages recently at five of the territory's airports. Those locations have since been resupplied with aviation gas. - photo courtesy of Calm Air

Nunavut airports deal with fuel shortage

Stephanie McDonald
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 27, 2007

IQALUIT - Several of Nunavut's airports faced a shortage of fuel in the past few weeks, a recurring problem at this time of year as communities await resupply by fuel tankers.

Airline and charter companies put in one fuel order each year, and with unpredictable flight schedules, low fuel levels can result. Some airline companies had to cancel flights in August due to the shortage.

Hall Beach, Arctic Bay, Resolute, Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet all dealt with low levels of fuel over the past few weeks. NAV Canada issued notices on its website for the four communities, but all have since been resupplied.

Don Miller, acting director of Nunavut airports, said that Petroleum Products Division (PPD), with the Department of Community and Government Services, is faced with a difficult task in anticipating what consumption levels will be each year.

"It doesn't matter if the refinery is 200 miles away and you can send tankers down the road to refill your tanks, but our situation is unique. We can't get a ship in here at the drop of a hat," he said.

Fuel shortages can occur as mining activity increases, the number of medevac flights needed are uncertain, and it could be a cold or mild winter.

"These are all influencing factors," Miller said.

Unaalik Aviation had to fly with reduced loads and in some cases had to cancel flights. The shortage also meant that they had to switch to drummed fuel, slowing things down as it takes longer to fill the aircraft.

"Summertime is our busiest time of year and it's significant amounts of revenue that were lost," Jimi Onalik, owner of Unaalik Aviation, said from Rankin Inlet. A lot of Unaalik's customers are exploration companies that have tight time frames to get things done.

"The fuel problem hit them at the worst time," Onalik said.

In Hall Beach, a nearby mining company unexpectedly needed local airline services, which drained more fuel than anticipated, according to Susan Makpah, a director with PPD based in Rankin Inlet.

The community received an airlift shipment of fuel and now has an "adequate supply," although it is waiting for resupply by a fuel tanker to get its levels up to normal, Miller said.

Arctic Bay's tank farm had been supplied with the anticipated fuel volume it would need for the year, but when First Air added a Sunday service, increasing flights into the community to four a week, demand for fuel increased. The community has now been resupplied.

Although Resolute was resupplied at the same time as Arctic Bay, the construction of a new tank farm in Resolute has made fuel levels volatile. The Petroleum Products Division didn't want to have a surplus of fuel that they would have to move between tanks as construction was ongoing. As soon as fuel is transferred, it needs to be recertified before it can be used in an airplane.

"We try to avoid (an) excess of fuel during construction," Makpah said.

The shortage in Rankin Inlet occurred when its northern neighbour Baker Lake ran out of jet fuel. The Government of Nunavut doesn't sell jet fuel in the inland community, but had to resupply it when the town's private supplier depleted its stock. As with the other communities, the shortage in Rankin Inlet has been alleviated.

When PPD becomes aware that a community will be short before the arrival of the resupply vessel, they start to issue notices. Scheduled flights and medevacs are able to proceed, but charter companies must get approval from PPD to purchase a particular volume of fuel.

During the 2007 resupply season, close to 168 million litres of diesel, gasoline, and jet A-1 fuel will be delivered to Nunavut.