Calgary-based Canadian North and Ottawa-based First Air have finalized their plan to merge, paving the way for the combined carrier to integrate operations as part of a strategy to serve 24 Arctic communities.

The combined entity, which will operate under the Canadian North brand, expects the integration to take 18-24 months.

The airlines will continue to operate under separate brands at first, focusing on developing a joint schedule that will take effect later this year. The workforces will be combined “in a gradual process that will be completed hand-in-hand with other milestones such as combining flight reservations systems, fare products, operational processes, fleets and facilities,” the companies said.

First Air president Chris Avery will lead the new airline’s day-to-day operation. Johnny Adams, currently executive chairman of First Air, will serve in the same role for the merged airline. Patrick Gruben, the current chairman of Canadian North, will assume the role of vice chairman.

The two carriers provide often-overlapping passenger and cargo connections between communities in Canada’s northern region as well as links to the country’s major metropolitan areas down south. Canadian North operates 16 aircraft, including 13 Boeing 737 Classics and two de Havilland Dash 8s. First Air’s 20-aircraft fleet include 13 ATR 42s and seven Boeing 737 Classics.

The merger is the carriers’ most definitive step in a multi-year effort to pool resources and better meet the demands of the communities they serve. Talks to merge in 2014 ended without an agreement. A year later, the carriers announced a codeshare deal, but First Air ended it in 2017. 

The latest plan to merge was announced a year ago. Canada’s Competition Bureau in February recommended against the deal, citing its potential to create a monopoly. Despite the bureau’s view, the Canadian government approved the deal in June, attaching several fare and service-level stipulations designed to protect consumers.

Sean Broderick,