An Indigenous-owned airline hopes to launch a route from Qualicum Beach to Vancouver as soon as it is possible to do so safely, according to its founder.
Iskwew Air could start service with flights two or three days per week and continue to expand in response to demand, according to Teara Fraser, founder and lead executive. Iskwew (ISS-KWAY-YO) is a Cree word that means woman.
“I chose the name for this airline as an active reclamation of womanhood, reclamation of matriarchal leadership and most importantly reclamation of language, which is connection to land,” Fraser said during an engagement session via Zoom on June 2.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited demand for air travel, but Iskwew has been airlifting essential goods and services into Indigenous communities. It also offers charter travel services for essential purposes, according to Fraser, who said she is hopeful about B.C.’s Restart plan but did not say when flights could begin.
“The Qualicum Beach Airport has gone now almost two full years without a carrier and it’s really important for us as an airport,” said Qualicum Beach Coun. Robert Filmer, who has a background in airline operations and aviation safety and is chairperson of the town’s airport users committee.
“It’s something that generates not only revenues for our community, but it also expands our community to other communities and lets people connect from one end to another.”
Fraser has been a commercial pilot for close to 20 years and launched and ran an aerial survey company from 2010–2016. She said she was inspired to start an airline a decade ago when, during preparation for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the organizing committee aspired to showcase B.C.’s Indigenous communities.
“One of the barriers that was identified was bringing travellers into some of those smaller communities,” Fraser said. The idea did not take off at the time, she said, but it was the spark that led her to form Iskwew Air and purchase a plane in 2018.
Iskwew Air began operations in October 2019 and is based out of Vancouver. It operates a twin engine PA31 Piper Navajo Chieftain called the Sweetgrass Warrior.