By: Matt Johnson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

After what has been a turbulent 24 months, Rise Air is hopeful Cameco’s plans to restart the McArthur River mine and Key Lake mill later is a sign of future stability for the airline company.

For Derek Nice, the CEO of Rise Air — which is a rebrand following the 2021 consolidation of West Wind Aviation and Transwest Air — the reopening is well-timed.

“We’ve all had our fingers crossed, hoping that this was going to happen,” Nice said.

Rise Air is Cameco’s largest flight provider for workforce transportation to mines in remote regions of the province. The temporary shut down of McArthur River and Key Lake in 2017 resulted in 845 employees being laid off.

While the reopening is good news, what it fully means to the company is still unknown, according to Nice.

By itself, he said, “it’s not as significant as the general trend that we’re seeing. So we do think that there’s a general upturn in activity, especially exploration activity and that is definitely going to drive more business for us in the coming months and years.”

Half of the company’s business is related to resources. The announcement from Cameco is a reflection of the trends they’re seeing across the sector as a whole, he noted.

“The level of activity that we see is definitely impacted by the approach that Cameco and other miners are taking to the market,” Nice said. “If Cameco feels strongly that they should be increasing their level of activity, then that has a direct impact on us. But we don’t necessarily understand that strategy. We believe that it’s obviously influenced by pricing, but we don’t necessarily know that there’s a direct correlation.”

Cameco’s stock is rising dramatically — up 24.10 per cent this month, as of last Tuesday — while the spot price of Uranium is up more than $20 US$ per pound in the last calendar year, rising from $27.98 on Feb. 28, 2021 to $48.75 last Monday. Nice and the company are aware of those numbers.

“It’s a bit of a benchmark we’ve been tracking, but we’ve also been monitoring indicators as well, because it’s not just uranium that seems to be driving our activity,” Nice said, also mentioning rare earth minerals and gold mining as other resources the company follows.

Nice couldn’t give an exact number of how many more flights per week the Cameco announcement would lead to, only saying that the company will see a fairly significant increase in flights this summer. It’s a welcome sign for Rise, after the COVID-19 pandemic initially cut business for the company in half. While Nice notes that the company hasn’t fully recovered, he hopes to return to 2019 levels by the end of this calendar year.

“I think we’re being very, very cautious because there’s so much uncertainty for us right now,” Nice said.

“Until we’re absolutely certain that we’ve put the pandemic behind us, we’re not going to be making any long-term decisions that will dictate where we will be in the next couple of years.”

One decision the company made, according to Nice, is rehiring pilots initially laid off as an initial response to the pandemic in 2020. The future of Rise and the recovery plan is still up in the air.

“We want to be optimistic and we certainly have our contingency plans,” he said.

“If we see that there is going to be consistent, steady growth, then I think that will be consistent, steady growth for us as well. But at this point we can’t predict that.”