What Happened To Boeing 747 Operator Wardair?

Today, Canadian commercial aviation is dominated by flag carrier Air Canada. WestJet and Air Transat account for the majority of the country’s remaining airline traffic. However, if one looks further back in time, several other large Canadian carriers can be found. Among these is Wardair, which even operated the iconic Boeing 747. But what happened to this airline?

Wardair Boeing 747 Birmingham
Wardair operated both the -100 and -200 variants of the Boeing 747. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

Humble beginnings

Wardair first came into being in 1952 and commenced operations the following year. However, its roots lie in the previous decade. In 1946, Maxwell Ward, from whom the airline took its name, founded the Polaris Charter Company.

Based in Yellowknife, the only city in Canada’s Northwest Territories, this small regional airline served remote communities within the area and in the neighboring Yukon territory. Polaris flew passengers and cargo on small biplanes such as the de Havilland DH.83 ‘Fox Moth.’

Wardair had similarly humble beginnings, commencing operations in 1953 with the single-engine, propeller-driven de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter. Its network first expanded into Canada’s more populous regions. However, within a decade, Wardair was looking much further afield.

Wardair Boeing 707
Wardair’s growth saw it operate non-stop transatlantic flights with the Boeing 707 within 15 years of its first service. Photo: kitmasterbloke via Flickr

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Worldwide growth

Less than 10 years after its inception, 1962 saw Wardair lease its first large airliner. This Douglas DC-6B propliner, which boasted four piston-engines, allowed the airline to expand into the international charter market. Utilizing the DC-6, Wardair served European destinations in the summer, and the likes of Mexico and California in the winter.

Its first jetliner, a Boeing 727 which made one-stop transatlantic flights possible, followed four years later, in 1966. After another two years, the presence of the Boeing 707 in Wardair’s fleet in 1968 eliminated the need for this stop. The following decade then saw the advent of widebody aircraft at the airline.

Wardair took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in 1973. This represented the first of five ‘jumbos’ that would eventually serve the airline. According to Planespotters.net, these comprised three -100 variants, delivered between 1973 and 1986, and two -200s, delivered in 1979 and 1980. Other widebodies to have been present in the Wardair fleet include the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and the Airbus A300 and A310.

Wardair DC-10 Manchester
Wardair also operated the striking McDonnell Douglas DC-10 trijet between 1978 and 1989. Photo: Andrew Thomas via Flickr

Acquisition by Canadian Airlines

Despite boasting an impressive intercontinental route network, which also included scheduled transatlantic flights from 1985, Wardair fell into financial difficulties in the late-1980s. It had found itself unable to attract business customers to its scheduled services, as many had already developed loyalty to competitors’ frequent flyer programs. Its expansion appeared to have happened too fast and too soon.

As such, the airline was sold to Canadian Airlines, whose network benefitted from the addition of Wardair’s intercontinental routes. However, this carrier was also not without its difficulties. Having been formed in 1987, it existed for just 14 years before various financial struggles forced Canadian Airlines to merge with flag carrier Air Canada in 2001. A founding member of the Star Alliance, today Air Canada serves nearly 220 destinations with over 160 aircraft.

Did you ever fly with Wardair? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!