Three weeks after an evacuation order was issued for the City of Yellowknife, its airport was set to open to commercial flights on Wednesday.
As an essential service, the airport maintained staff and services throughout the evacuation, but it was not equipped to return to regular operations immediately.
The general public was allowed to return to Yellowknife on Wednesday at noon.
In a press conference on Monday, Jeffrey Edison, regional superintendent with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said that airlines have chosen to reduce their operations, which has allowed the airport to ease into reintroducing commercial flights.
"We have been speaking with all the airlines and asking what their plans are," he said. "If we open it up on Wednesday, what are your plans? How many flights are you bringing in?"
In an email, the Department of Infrastructure said the Yellowknife airport opened to commercial flights Wednesday afternoon, and that six commercial flights were scheduled to arrive that day. Additionally, two flights are set to depart the capital on Wednesday for Vancouver and Calgary.
People arrive at the Yellowknife airport on Wednesday, after the city's evacuation order lifted. (Richard Gleeson)
One of the challenges that comes with reopening the airport is ensuring there are enough staff to operate. During the evacuations, Transport Canada gave the Yellowknife airport an exemption in which people could leave the airport without usual security screenings. Those security exemptions are no longer in place, which means the airport needs enough staff for security and screening passengers.
"The airport and contract staff need to be in place. We currently have many of those staff either flying into Yellowknife or coming in by road," said Edison. "They're all on the essential list, all in transit, but again we have to assume Wednesday is based on no delays."
It appeared that there were no serious delays. The Department of Infrastructure said that the airport is "amply staffed to support the services required for processing passengers," including security and screening. However, it will still be some time before the airport is back to its usual operations.
A reduced commercial schedule is expected for the rest of the week. The Department of Infrastructure said that they did not have an estimate for how long it would be before the airport returns to normal operations, since they cannot comment on the operations of the airlines.