Air Creebec has made a bold move on the west side of the James Bay coast, announcing a $10.3 million, three-year transportation contract with De Beers Canada to service the new Victor Mine Project near Attawapiskat.

Fourteen jobs are to be created on the Air Creebec side, although it’s still too early to apply for them, said Air Creebec President Albert Diamond.

“Initially we’ll be using our personnel,” Diamond told the Nation. “We’re not going to hire anybody until the number of trips and workload warrants it. We’re supposed to start off with two flights a week. We’re not going to hire people just to do two flights to keep operating costs and our proposal down.”

Diamond said people would be hired once the operation begins in earnest between April and June. “There will be nine people hired just for the additional aircraft. That’s the pilot and flight attendants, three crews of three,” said Diamond.

The contract was signed as a joint venture with Attawapiskat Limited Partnership, which includes Moose Cree, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat, Peawanuck and Weenusk First Nations.

Going by the name CreeWest, their tasks will include passenger and cargo transportation to and from the Victor Project site. The contract covers the three-year projected construction period for the Victor Project.

“The fact that this contract has been awarded to CreeWest is further demonstration of the De Beers’ commitment to support the development of local Aboriginal business,” Jeremy Wyeth, Vice President of the De Beers Victor Project, said in a press release. “We are pleased that the regional First Nations are utilizing the Victor Project to create new business initiatives that will have sustainable positive economic effects.”

From January until April, De Beers will be working on the road from Attawapiskat to the mine site and then start construction of the camp, the permanent airstrip and finally, open the mine.

At its peak, there will be almost 600 people working at the mine, which is projected to have a life span of 12 years.

To accommodate the new leg, Air Creebec secured the okay on January 12 from their board of directors to purchase a $2.5 million, 37-seat Dash 8-100.

“This is a significant business development for Air Creebec and it certainly has always been on our radar screen to serve the Victor Project,” Diamond said in the De Beers press release. “On a personal level, we are honoured to have this opportunity of working with our sister communities on the west coast of James Bay.”

Diamond and the Air Creebec Board of Directors told Attawapiskat that if they wanted to talk about eventually taking over the Air Creebec route in northern Ontario, or becoming a partner in it, it was definitely open for discussion. Air Creebec included that prospect in their proposal for partnership, which helped them secure the contract over five other companies.

Currently, Air Creebec is the only airline that offers regular service to the western side of James Bay.

“There are still things we don’t know like volume of cargo and where the workers are going to come from,” said Diamond.

Flights will originate from Timmins, said Diamond. “De Beers looked at other towns but settled on Timmins,” he said. “As for now, they are still sending a lot of equipment and material by rail through Moosonee and then by winter road to Attawapiskat and then to the mine site.”

De Beers started building an ice runway, partly on a lake, in December. A full 40 inches of ice is needed to handle the weight of the planes, so for now helicopters are being utilized to get the job done.