Although Europeans had for centuries explored and exploited the resources of the territory in Northern Quebec now known as Nunavik, it was well into the 20th century before regular travel to the region became a commercial necessity.
When the Quebec Government decided to proceed with its intention of developing the hydro-electric potential of the area during the 1960s, it was the first time southern inhabitants of the province had been required to enter into formal discussions with the proud people who held inalienable rights to the area.
It was there that the Inuit made it clear that respect for their people and culture must remain the cornerstones of dealings between the two parties. It was a victory in itself to achieve that goal, beginning with the establishment of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association.
Although there was far from unanimity among the Inuit about whether to allow the project to go ahead in the first place, an accord was finally reached with the signature of The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement—the first formal lands-claim treaty in all of Canada. When the hydro-electric project at James Bay finally went ahead, a need for regular and reliable air service to the vast area until then almost entirely inaccessible became glaringly apparent. Thus it was that, under the auspices of Makivik Corporation, Air Inuit was founded, fully owned by the aboriginal inhabitants of Nunavik.
Air Inuit began operations in 1978 with the purchase of a single-engine De Havilland Beaver aircraft, followed shortly afterward by a pair of Twin Otters, a Single Otter and a DHC3 based in Kuujjuaq.
In 1983, the company purchased the routes north along the eastern Hudson’s Bay coast from Austin Airways, increasing its Twin Otter fleet to 8. In 1985, the company acquired its first Hawker Siddley 748 and began operating from a base in Kuujjuaraapik which was later relocated to La Grande (LG2) to address the growing demand to move cargo and heavy machinery throughout the region, primarily for mining purposes. In 1988, Johnny May’s Air Charters was purchased as a subsidiary company running Single Otters and Beavers during the float season.
In 1995, the company embarked on an ambitious expansion plan, introducing De Havilland Dash-8-100 service between Montreal and Nunavik. Subsequently, in 1998, Nunavik Rotors is created and a rotary-wing service is added to the region from its base in Kuujjuaq with the purchase of an Aerospatiale Astar 350 helicopter.
In 2008, the airline acquired a Boeing 737-200C capable of landing on gravel and specially adapted for northern operations much to the pride of management and customers alike. Today, after more than 34 years in operation, Air Inuit has become an important regional carrier in Canada. The company has recently built a multi-purpose state-of-the-art maintenance center and head office near Montreal’s Trudeau International airport as part of a sweeping modernization initiative designed to meet increased demand for air transport services throughout Northern Quebec and other destinations across Canada and the United States.