First Air serves the travel and cargo needs of more northern communities than any other air carrier in Canada. Our scheduled service carries approximately 250,000 passengers and over 22 million kilograms of freight and mail over its vast and comprehensive route network, which connects 32 Northern Communities with major centres in Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton.
First Air operates a versatile fleet of 17 aircraft for regularly scheduled passenger and air cargo services. All aircraft are gravel and ice strip equipped for landing in remote locations, and many are combination (combi) aircraft capable of multiple passenger/cargo configurations.
First Air celebrated 70 years of operation in 2016. It was founded by Russ Bradley in Ottawa, Ontario in 1946, as Bradley Air Services, and soon developed a specialty in air support for Arctic explorations. This lead to the expansion of the airline from its roots in the high Arctic to other parts of the Canadian Arctic. In 1973, the company changed its name to First Air.
Makivik Corporation purchased First Air in 1990, consolidating its aviation portfolio to include the major Arctic passenger, cargo, and charter carrier. Since that time First Air has continued to expand, purchasing Ptarmigan Airways, and NWT Air in the mid 1990s. A regional joint venture airline was created in 2011 to service Baffin region with Qikiqtaaluk Corporation. They are Qikiqtani First Air Aviation Ltd.
In 2002 and 2011 First Air was named as one of Canada’s Best 50 Managed Companies.
First Air’s highly successful Arctic operations began in Canada’s North and has expanded over the years to include many other locations around the world. The Government of Canada’s Polar Shelf Project, for example, required working from points in both Greenland and Alaska. Other charter contracts have sent our teams all the way to the Antarctic. Mission requirements in these remote places have included working on mineral, petroleum and scientific exploration, aerial surveying and mapping, passenger services and general cargo shipments.
Through grass-roots community reinvestment, meaningful employment opportunities and by providing beneficiaries with tangible benefits, First Air continues to demonstrate social responsibility and leadership in northern transportation services. There are over 145 Indigenous employees. First Air supports many community initiatives throughout the year, which have links in the Arctic.