THUNDER BAY - Wasaya Airways is expanding its fleet with an aircraft that officials say is better suited for servicing remote communities throughout the north.
Wasaya announced the addition of a Dash 8-100 aircraft that will enter service this week. The $5 million Canadian built, dual-prop Dash 8 brings Wasaya’s fleet total to 19 aircraft.
“It’s an exciting time for the owner communities, the board, the directors of Wasaya to see the launch of this new aircraft entering service this week,” said Adam Fiddler, chairman of the Wasaya Airways board.
Michael Rodyniuk, president and CEO of Wasaya Airways, said the Dash 8 is perfectly suited for flying to the more than 25 remote communities they service.
All the communities that Wasaya flies to have gravel runways that are only 3,500 feet long. In Thunder Bay, the runway is more than 9,000 feet of pavement.
“You can see that this is short takeoff and landing and it’s on gravel as opposed to concrete or asphalt,” Rodyniuk said. “This aircraft allows us to go into those short fields and land with a full load and take off with a full load. That’s all the fuel, guests, bags, and some cargo, which will dramatically improve service to the north.”
The Dash 8 seats 37 passengers and has an increased cargo capacity. Wasaya now has five different aircraft types in its fleet, but Fiddler said they are hoping to reduce that number down to just two.
“The idea is within five years we will have two aircraft, the Dash 8 and the PC 12,” he said. “They are very efficient and well suited to the north. Right now we have five aircraft, but it’s just more efficient, it’s easier when you have training, parts, all those process, with two rather than five aircraft.”
Rodyinuk added that they are also planning to add two more Dash 8 aircraft to the fleet by early spring. One other Dash 8 is already servicing Musselwhite Mine.
The new aircraft received a blessing from First Nations elders in a ceremony on Wednesday. Lydia Mamakwa, an elder from Kingfisher Lake, participated in the blessing with Reverend Samuel Winter.
“It’s important to bless the plane because in our culture and tradition, that is one of the things that we do whenever we get something that is very special to us,” Mamakwa said after the blessing. “We offer thanks for the plane, we give thanks for the prayers that have been offered, and we ask prayers for the safety of the plane and the passengers.”
“It’s significant to have the blessing and the community leaders be involved,” Fiddler added. “We have a unique situation in that we believe in traditional practices and our cultural beliefs.”
The newest Dash 8 to enter service is named after Sandy Yellowhead, former chief of Summer Beaver and Wasaya Airways board member.
“He was a chief for many years and a band council member for many years,” Fiddler said. “He was an advocate of economic development, self-efficiency through business and he was a former Wasaya director. It’s well fitted to name the aircraft in his memory.”