Buffalo Airways has acquired a Boeing 737, the NWT-based airline’s first jet aircraft, to meet customer demand for next-day freight delivery.
The 737-300SF is in Bournemouth, England receiving checks and new parts before arriving in the Northwest Territories for final upgrades specific to Canadian flight regulations.
For Buffalo, famed for continuing to operate World War Two-era DC-3 aircraft, the move into jet aviation is a significant step.
“It’s not clickbait. It’s not April fool’s,” Buffalo’s Mikey McBryan told viewers of the airline’s YouTube channel in a video shared on Friday last week.
Speaking to Cabin Radio on Sunday, McBryan said the 737 was necessary because existing freight connections into the NWT cannot keep up with next-day demand. The new aircraft should, he said, mean that “anything Yellowknifers need next day, we’re hoping to get.”
At the moment, freight carried by Buffalo mostly arrives in the Northwest Territories by truck. Cargo is then loaded onto the airline’s DC-3 and C-46 aircraft, some of them approaching 80 years old, for onward travel to the territory’s smaller communities.
The 737 will replace much of Buffalo’s reliance on trucks to get freight into its network.
“We’re maxed out almost every single day with next-day freight,” said McBryan, whose company holds the NWT contracts for FedEx, UPS, and DHL.
“We’re at the point now where we have enough freight that we can fly the 737 direct from Edmonton to Yellowknife, every night.”
The airline’s freight division, Buffalo Air Express, is “a lot bigger than most people realize,” McBryan said.
“We handle almost all of Alberta. We truck it to Hay River then fly it in the morning with the C-46. This is the first big step, where we’ve got enough freight that we can go directly out of Edmonton.
“Right now, a service like Amazon Prime couldn’t really exist in Yellowknife next-day. A service like Amazon Prime needs lots of room and guaranteed space, and other major companies are going that way.
“It takes three to four days, sometimes, to get a truck out of Edmonton to Yellowknife, especially if you don’t have a full truck. Our new system is going to be able to do the equivalent of two 53-foot trailers per night, including backhaul.”
No gravel airstrips
The company has been working on a striking green-and-white Buffalo livery for the new aircraft, which is set to arrive in Yellowknife for the first time within the next three months.
The 737 in question is reported to have been manufactured in 1986 and converted from a passenger jet to a cargo airliner in 2006, operating first for a Belgian company before being leased to Spanish firm SwiftAir.
Compared to Buffalo’s existing aircraft, the 737 is rated for around 10,000 lbs more cargo (a total of some 43,000 lbs) per flight. McBryan says that comes with “anywhere from 20 to 30 percent better fuel efficiency.”
However, it won’t be able to land on gravel airstrips, ruling out the vast majority of northern runways.
Smaller communities will continue to be served by the existing, decades-old Buffalo aircraft, suggesting the company’s move into jet aviation does not yet end the era of the DC-3.
“The DC-3, the C-46 and even our Lockheed Electras will continue to service the communities,” McBryan confirmed. “Modern airplanes can’t handle the runways of the North.”
The 737 could be operational by the late summer of 2022, McBryan said, depending on the various approvals the airline must first receive.
“It takes mountains and mountains of paperwork,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped more than 40 people seeking to fly the plane. As of Sunday evening, a LinkedIn job posting to become Buffalo’s first 737 pilot had attracted 42 applicants.
“Interestingly enough, a pilot that escaped Ukraine sent me a message,” said McBryan, referring to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“He left with his licence and a bag of clothes and he’s working his way to Canada. He’s interested. It’s great.
“It’s a lot easier to find 737 pilots than it is to find DC-3 pilots, that’s for sure.”