by Hugh Whittington
December, 1979, Canadian Aviation
You can’t operate an airline on love or nostalgia, so Max Ward closed down his Yellowknife bush operation in October to end a 33-year flying affair with the Northwest Territories. It’s sad, because Wardair and the North were synonymous long before Wardair and the international charter market.
Ward feels that the closing down of his Northern airline, which operated five de Havilland Twin Otters and a Grumman American Gulfstream I (on behalf of the Northwest Territorial Government) as well as the Dash 7, will allow smaller charter operators in the area to expand.
“The backbone of the North is still the small operator who owns, flies, maintains, loads and unloads his own airplanes,” Ward said. “He’s not as vulnerable. He’ll take eight drums of fuel in his Series 100 Twin Otter, while we’d only take six in our Series 300 airplanes. He isn’t facing as much risk, whereas we were vulnerable. People hear of a Wardair accident and they think of a 747, they don’t know we’re flying in the North with smaller airplanes.”
What Ward is saying, of course, is that to survive economically in the North, some carriers still have to fly overloaded airplanes and play games with the weather. He wasn’t prepared to play.
“But despite it all, closing down in Yellowknife really put me off. It was a hard, hard thing to do even though it was running on emotion for a long time. There were a lot of good years.”
Most of the 35 permanent employees were offered jobs with larger charter operations; the twelve pilots, for instance, will be given first crack at new openings on Wardair’s Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s.
“But you know, some of them love the North so much that they don’t want to move. They want to find other work up there.”
Two of the Otters were bought by Ptarmigan Airways, two by Bannock Aerospace and one by a Calgary operator. The Dash 7 – which only had 500 hours on it – and the G-I were still for sale at the time of writing.
Soon, though, the only visible sign that there was a Wardair operating in the North will be that old Bristol Freighter mounted on a pedestal outside Yellowknife Airport. And the curly-headed blond youngster who posed for a picture astride his very first airplane back in 1946 will be concentrating all of his energies on the large and superlative international charter airline that was begat by that $12,000 de Havilland Fox Moth.
This article originally appeared in the December, 1979 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine.