On a normal day, Air Nootka’s floatplane service based out of of Gold River offers a road map to pure adventure.
Tourists rave about the scenic coastlines around Kyuquot, Zeballos and Tahsis seen from on board a Cessna or De Havilland Beaver. These days, however, because of COVID-19, most tourists have cancelled their journeys, adding a substantial financial pressure on Air Nootka’s business.
But that has not deterred the Gold River floatplane operator from continuing to serve remote communities that rely on them to bring them mail, groceries and medical supplies.
Run by local couple, Sam and Angela Carlsen, Air Nootka runs chartered services and mail flights to the small, isolated hamlets along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
“We’ve had to lay-off our staff,” said Angela Carlsen, adding that her husband, who is also a pilot, now makes the trips to deliver supplies to these communities alone, three days a week.
With May to September being the peak season for tourism, Air Nootka relied on mail flight deliveries for its income for the rest of the year.
The historic mail flights, connecting Canada Post to remote communities on the Island, are tourist attractions and often take two to three passengers along the mail route for a fee.
“A seat costs around $200 and judging by the number of trips, there is a substantial amount that we are losing this year,” said Carlsen.
Despite the grim financial season, Air Nootka’s services are still busy delivering essential supplies to remote communities.
Medical supplies to Zeballos and Kyuquot are a top priority as these places have small clinics and limited medical capacities.
“Apart from the supplies, we also bring back labworks from there to the clinics in Gold River,” said Carlsen.
Another location they serve, Friendly Cove, has a settlement of around six people and a couple of lighthouse keepers.
“We bring groceries to the lightkeepers on the mail flights along with their medications,” said Carlsen.
As communities practice social distancing, Carlsen observed that there has been an increased amount of deliveries as people begin to rely on online shopping.
“That’s understandable because everyone is trying to stay put at home to flatten the curve,” said Carlsen, adding that it is impressive to see everyone following protocol.
But sometimes, locals get restless and pressure the Carlsens for a ride to one of the scenic locations, either to the hot springs or Friendly Cove.
“We have to remind them that everything is shut and that we are not undertaking any non-essential travel at the moment,” said Carlsen.
Even the communities along the route have issued warnings and requested people to not travel amidst the pandemic, more so to protect their residents.
“We have to obtain permissions in places like Kyoquot if anyone has to go in or out,” said Carlsen, adding these communities do not want anyone except medical staff visiting.
Although business is down, Carlsen said that communities have to “stick together” at such times to help each other and that they are glad to be of service to these communities and connect them with essential supplies on their mail flights.