"For the next 20 years, there will be lots of exploration and development in a region where there are few roads and limited sea access. So, aviation will play a crucial role in the green transition."
How has Nolinor Aviation (Nolinor) adapted to the needs of the mining industry in 2023?
Most of our requests from the mining industry right now are related to the Boeing 737-200, the only certified jet by Boeing that can land on gravel. We have the largest fleet of 737-200 in the world and recently received a confirmation from Boeing that they would continue supporting the aircraft. We are also brining back two Boeings that were removed from the fleet at the beginning of the pandemic. One aircraft should be ready before the end of June, and the other at the beginning of 2024.
Did you notice a shift in demand from majors and juniors for Nolinor’s services?
Increasingly, mining firms want us to take care of larger logistics in the aviation field. Some operators may request oversized cargo to bring to their mine, so firms will ask us to take cargo from Europe to North America. We are handling those services, and we are also branching into smaller aircraft: we have a division that has a small fleet of PC-12 aircrafts, and a small fleet of Beach 1900. These are needed to transport workers from the local communities to the mining sites. We want to push those added services to the coming years, so we can offer mining firms turnkey air solutions. We added a 737-800 recently, and if you have a fair amount of people to move, this is key. Adding 400s and 800s to the fleet adds flexibility, and we want to be seen on the market as an airline that brings 360-degree solutions.
There is a change in the market. Five years ago, people looked for cheap prices. We stuck to our philosophy, which is bringing value to mining companies, and you need an important fleet to do so. This comes to a price.
What will the growing need for critical minerals mean for the aviation segment in Québec?
For the next 20 years, there will be lots of exploration and development in a region where there are few roads and limited sea access. So, aviation will play a crucial role in the green transition.
Can you touch upon some of Nolinor’s investments in new technologies and sustainability practices?
We added younger aircrafts to our fleet, which is our way of adapting, and we use the 400 and 800 for charter requests only. In the coming years, we might have to enroll in specific environmental programs, and we welcome the idea with an open mind. In November 2022, we started working on AI solutions for our safety management system (SMS). We created an API and used ChatGPT to manage part of the report. Simply put, the AI will summarize a 3-page report in a paragraph. At the end of the process, we asked ChatGPT to act as an airline safety specialist and provide a draft of safety measures. This was a 3-month project that we deployed in mid-April, and so far the result is so good we are thinking of developing a commercial version of it. At Nolinor, we love innovating.
How are you leveraging social media as a recruitment and public outreach tool?
We are second on TikTok in the aviation industry, having reached 1 million followers recently. Social media completely redefined our approach to HR. We now receive resumés every week, and in 30 years, we have never seen such a level of fandom from folks online. I receive personal emails every week about youngsters writing that their dream job is to work at Nolinor. They follow our account, dream about going up North, flying with our aircrafts, etc. One kid built a LEGO of a 737-200 with thousands of parts and submitted his design to LEGO, and people still vote for it to be reproduced. We spend around C$200,000 per year on social media. The return we get from it is visibility, candidates, leads, and public outreach. Only Ryanair is before us on TikTok, which is crazy!
What are the key milestones for Nolinor in 2023-2024?
We want to create more volume and capacity with the 737-200 for the mining industry. As those aircrafts will be flying for the next two decades, we have been looking for their alternative, as I doubt people are going to pave all the roads in Nunavut. Aviation will stay relevant for mining companies in Québec in the decades ahead.