What Happened To Canada’s Pacific Western Airlines?


From post-war product Central British Columbia Airlines to part of Canada’s second-largest carrier with Boeing 747s, Pacific Western Airlines helped shape the country’s aviation history. Let’s take a look back at its journey from providing logistics for remote mining camps to its transition to Canadian Airlines, and its subsequent purchase by rival Air Canada.

PWA 737
Pacific Western Airlines was part of shaping Canadian aviation history. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Central British Columbia Airlines

Canada’s Pacific Western Airlines was born just as the world was emerging from the Second World War on July 8th, 1945. At first, it was called Central British Columbia Airlines. The carrier offered air services to the north of Canada, transporting men and materials to far-off mining camps and logging operations.

It quickly expanded into the following decade, acquiring no less than seven smaller operators. As its bases grew rapidly, it also outgrew its geographical name. Thus, in 1953, it came to be called Pacific Western Airlines.

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The Chieftain Airbus shuttle

The airline acquired two more minor operators and then went on to shape Canadian aviation history. In 1963, Pacific Western Airlines began operating the ‘Chieftain Airbus’ shuttle service between Calgary and Edmonton.

Passengers simply brought any luggage with them on board, and, just as on an older long-distance bus, a ticketing agent collected the fare for the journey, which was just five minutes shy of an hour. The service was operated by one of the airline’s 66-seat Douglas DC-4s. In less than eight years, PWA had transported over one million people on the Chieftain shuttle.

PWA Dc-4
The airline flew one million people between Calgary and Edmonton on a DC-4 in less than eight years. Photo: Gordon Hunter via Wikimedia Commons

Canadian Boeing jet-pioneers

PWA was the first Canadian airline to hoarder the Boeing 737. A service linking the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, known as the ‘Stampeder Service’, saw the introduction of the airline’s first jet aircraft in 1968, a Boeing 737-200. The type was to become the workhorse of the airline’s fleet for the following decade.

The largest aircraft ever operated by PWA were Boeing 767s. It flew two of the widebody aircraft on regional services throughout Western Canada for two years from 1983 to 1985. Air Canada took both planes as PWA decided to focus on an all-737 fleet.


Forming Canadian Airlines

Pacific Western Airlines officially ceased operations on March 27th, 1986. However, this was not because it went out of business. Its parent corporation, PWA Corp, purchased Canadian Pacific Air Lines (CP Air), Wardair, Eastern Provincial Airways, and Nordair. Together they formed Canadian Airlines International.

Canadian Airlines became Canada’s second-largest airline after Air Canada. At the height of its operations in 1996, it flew to over 160 destinations across the world, 105 of those domestic. It had hubs at Calgary International in Alberta, Toronto Pearson in Ontario, Montreal Trudeau in Quebec, and Vancouver International in British Columbia.

PWA merged with other carriers to become Canada’s second-largest airline. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons

The airline was also a founding partner of the oneworld alliance in 1998. Over the years, it operated a fleet of Airbus A310s and A320s, as well as Boeing 737s, 747s, 767s, and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s.

Transitional livery following transpacific woes

However, a downturn in Asian economies affected the transpacific market in 1998. Coupled with more competition from WestJet, which had launched a few years earlier, the problems began to pile up for the Pacific Western heir. At the turn of the millennium, Canadian was acquired by its largest competitor, Air Canada.

It officially ceased operations on January 1st, 2001. During the merger process, many of Canadian’s aircraft had a transition livery, with the distinct maple leaf of Air Canada painted on their tails, as can be seen on the 747 in the photo above.

Did you ever fly with Pacific Western Airlines? Or Canadian Airlines? On which aircraft? Tell us about it in the comment section.