Indigenous woman-owned Iskwew Air launches service between Qualicum Beach and YVR

Aug 20 2021, 2:03 pm

Canada’s first Indigenous woman-owned airline has taken a major step forward, offering service between Qualicum Beach Airport and Vancouver International Airport.

Iskwew Air officially launched in Spring 2019 and mainly operated as a charter service over the COVID-19 pandemic. Iskwew (pronounced ISS-KWAY-YO) is the Cree word for woman.

Service between Qualicum Beach and YVR’s South Terminal officially began earlier this week, filling a much-needed gap. According to the airline, there has been no scheduled service at Qualicum Beach Airport since April of last year.

Airline CEO Teara Fraser, an experienced pilot and Métis woman, is also an entrepreneur and leader in BC’s aviation industry. She tells Daily Hive that they’ve planned the launch extensively, engaging with many different community members.

“We’ve been in conversation with the town, with the nation through engagement sessions, and we know from our surveys that people have felt differently about travelling through different times through the pandemic,” Fraser explains in an interview. “But there are essential travellers that depend on being able to be connected to the mainland in an easeful way.”

She adds that the response to Iskwew Air offering the new route has been “overwhelmingly positive,” adding that they’ll continue to learn and adjust as service increases.

“We’re starting with a limited service,” Fraser says. “We’ll be flying on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays to begin with. And as we assess demand and continue to respond to COVID-19 and what that puts before us, we will adapt and respond accordingly.”

“We wanted to start with service that we believed we could maintain through continued COVID-19 challenges and with the hopes that things continue to improve and we can continue to offer more and more flights between these communities.”

In addition to offering charter services over the COVID-19 pandemic, Iskwew Air held a fundraising campaign to support different First Nations and Indigenous communities.

When running chartered services, Fraser says that safety and sustainability were at the top of mind.

“We’ve been very wise with choices and resources and tried to be responsible during times when folks were asked not to travel,” she says. “We’re concentrating right now on offering good service to Qualicum Beach, and we are also very committed to being part of a more sustainable transportation system in the future.”

Fraser says that the airline is also committed to acknowledging that they operate on the lands of the Qualicum First Nations people.

In addition to sustainability, the company also has equity in mind. Iskwew Air’s maintenance department is lead by a woman even though Fraser notes only 2.3% of aircraft engineers in Canada are female.

“What we’re committed to doing at Iskwew Air is to reimagine, rematriate, and rebuild our aviation industry, centring equity and sustainability.”

Vincent PlanaVincent Plana

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