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While many industries across the globe have been significantly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, the airline industry has been one of the hardest hit. Despite the impact the pandemic was having on business, Nolinor Aviation found a way to step up and help Canadians at home and abroad.

Nolinor Aviation is a small, Montreal-based airline. For the last 27 years, they have been operating predominantly in the Nunavut region to bring food, cargo and workers to local mining sites.

On March 13th, just days before the country began officially locking down due to COVID-19, Marco Prud’Homme was named president of Nolinor. In his first hours on the job, he couldn’t have expected the ensuing impact to the business, the decisions he’d be making, and the realities of the days and months ahead.

“When the crisis first began, every day was like groundhog day,” says Prud’Homme. “People called every day to cancel flights. In the first two weeks, we lost 60 per cent capacity.”

In the face of the crisis, Prud’Homme and team didn’t panic. Instead, they began to look for opportunities. “We started receiving phone calls from people who were stuck in different countries all over the world, across Asia, Europe and South America,” he explained.

Keen to help, the team was able to collect students stranded in Guatemala and Morocco. Even if some flights required multiple refueling stops due to their small aircraft, Nolinor was able to reunite Canadians with their families back home. Following these successful missions, the Nolinor team continued thinking about how else they could make a difference.

So in early May, they posted a short video on their social media account showing their employees throwing out a challenge to other airlines flying up north. Nolinor stated they would be offering a free cargo flight with food and supplies to a local Northern community.

“Although we have never received any subsidies from the North, we have been flying there for over 27 years. We wanted to give back in this time of need and challenge other airlines to do the same. If everyone followed suit and gave away a flight, we could all make a sizeable difference,” says Prud’Homme in a statement on their website.

Food Banks Canada jumped at the opportunity and together managed to deliver 24,000 pounds of food – the equivalent of 1,000 grocery bags – to residents of Iqaluit. “We have been working in Nunavut for many years,” says Prud’Homme . “It was the least we could do for this community.”

And last month, Nolinar chartered the world’s largest cargo aircraft for one of its customers. The Antonov 225 flew from China to Canada with a cargo of 1,000 cubic metres of protective equipment bound for healthcare workers.

Thanks to the actions of Food Banks Canada, generous donations from citizens, and support from RBC, Nolinor Aviation was able to identify and fulfill opportunities to help individuals, families and communities affected by COVID-19. It’s a unique example of how Canadian businesses are putting the needs of others first, enabling our country to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.

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