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Company of the Year (51+ Employees): North Star Air

You won’t find the term “socially conscious” on North Star Air’s website. You will, however, see it in the company’s everyday actions.
North Star Air

You won’t find the term “socially conscious” on North Star Air’s website. You will, however, see it in the company’s everyday actions.

Headquartered in Thunder Bay with bases in Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Pickle Lake, Kapuskasing and Thompson, Man., North Star Air doesn’t just fly to remote communities – it partners with them.

“That’s what we do best: work with the First Nations and the Inuit in the High Arctic,” said founder and president Frank Kelner.

The company actively hires Indigenous employees inside the communities and out to deliver communication in whatever language their customers prefer.

“We focus on supporting them in the way they want to be supported. It’s a very personal level of care. It’s where the biggest part of our success is,” said Kelner.

Success is an understatement.

In the last year, North Star Air added more than 100 employees, bringing the total to over 240. Kelner expects that to climb to more than 300 by next year.

The company specializes in passenger service, cargo, and charter flights. Cargo is their largest area of operations, especially since the North West Company bought North Star Air two years ago.

The airline and its 17 aircraft provide fly-in communities with a vital link to food, building materials, and other supplies.

On the passenger side, North Star Air introduced Flex Scheduling. This innovative program helps overcome the challenges of living in the North. Normally, if you wanted to fly to the next First Nation over, you might have to fly to a hub – say, to Thunder Bay – then back out again. Flex Scheduling allows passengers to request a direct flight instead.

“You don’t see too many airlines our size accommodating these requests for individual people,” said Jeff Stout, vicepresident of commercial operations. “You don’t see many airlines our size saying, ‘Yes, not a problem. We’ll reroute the airplane for you.’”

Another example of providing aboveand- beyond service is the special screening of the film Indian Horse last summer. North Star Air carried the movie to more than 30 First Nations throughout northwestern Ontario. This travelling premiere allowed communities to see it before the movie’s wide release in September 2018.

“We are quite proud that we were able to bring it to them,” said Karen Matson, director of marketing and community relations, who attended several of the showings herself. The movie sparked conversations about residential schools and other effects of colonialism.

“After the movie was shown, Elders stood at the front and gave their stories. It was a moving, touching experience for all of us,” Matson said.

North Star Air also connects many charitable organizations to the fly-in communities including Thunder Bay RCMP Toys for the North, the Regional Food Distribution Association, CBC Thunder Bay Sounds of the Season, and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ dog rescue program.

But perhaps the greatest example of social consciousness is North Star Air’s revenue-sharing program with partner communities.

As of September 2019, the company has given $3 million back to the communities they serve to fund youth sports programs, construction projects, and more. It’s an approach to business that works well for everyone involved.

“We build belief in what we can do for them, and vice versa,” Kelner said. “That and our dedicated employees are what make the airline. You can’t argue with the results.”