It could be months before Buffalo Airways’ passenger flights resume between Hay River and Yellowknife.
So says Kathy McBryan, the company’s base manager in Hay River.
“We’re working daily toward it,” she said. “We just have a few things we want to iron out. So we have no set date but it’s definitely in the plans for the future to resume.”
McBryan said the company is probably looking at months before the return of the service, also known as the sched and famous for its use of DC-3s.
“Probably the summer,” she said. “I would say the summer.”
On Nov. 30, Transport Canada suspended Buffalo Airways’ air operator certificate because of the company’s “poor” aviation safety record and insufficient record-keeping.
The suspension was lifted on Jan. 12.
To maintain service during the suspension, Buffalo Airways chartered aircraft for cargo and passenger service.
However, the company ended chartered passenger flights to Hay River on Dec. 24.
“That was probably one of the more emotional decisions we had to make, stopping that sched,” McBryan said. “We tried for a while to accommodate all our customers by hiring other airlines to do it for us but financially the cost was just too great.”
She explained the company is working on restructuring to meet the requirements under which its air operator certificate was reinstated.
“We meet all the requirements,” she noted. “But right now just because we are restructuring the company, we just wanted to take a moment and work on other parts making sure that all our t’s are crossed and i’s dotted before we get into the next stage.”
In addition, she said the sched involves cabin safety, and that means more rules and regulations.
The overall restructuring of the company deals largely with paperwork and training, and following proper rules, regulations and procedures.
“It was time,” said McBryan. “We had years and years of gradually doing paperwork incorrectly until it just cannonballed and snowballed into something that we had to just stop, and bring it back down to the basics and build it back up again.”
However, she stressed the company’s problems with paperwork did not compromise safety.
“We were never unsafe as a company or as pilots or as aircraft,” she said. “We developed inadequate paperwork procedures.”
The required work was done, and everything was done safely and effectively, she said. “But on paper you have to prove it’s done safe and effectively.”
McBryan said people in Hay River want to know when the passenger service to Yellowknife is coming back.
“We get a lot of calls,” she said. “Actually, when you go through something like this, we’re so thankful to the community of Hay River, and Yellowknife, and all our passengers because everybody was so supportive.”
McBryan said some people even want to know if there is anything they can do to help the company.
“So they’re thinking of us,” she said. “There’s nothing really they can do to make it better. We have to make it better for ourselves. But just the outreach from the community meant so much.”
One of those concerned people is Mayor Brad Mapes who has not heard anything official about when the passenger service might be coming back.
“Definitely Buffalo Airways plays a huge part in our community,” said Mapes. “The more that we can have transportation options to get to our community, it’s going to bring more people to our community. So we definitely want to see it happen ASAP.”
McBryan, who is Buffalo Airways flight attendant manager, said the Hay River-Yellowknife service will be different once it returns.
“There will be a lot of changes,” she said. “Buffalo is so known for being so casual with their passenger travel. All that’s going to change. There’s going to be check-in times and, if you’re not there by that time, you don’t get on the plane. And we have no choice. We have to conform.”
In addition, the number of passengers allowed on the plane may be reduced.
McBryan said decisions have also not been made on the days the sched will operate once it returns.
In fact, she could not say whether the iconic DC-3s would still be used on the service, explaining, “Once again, those are decisions that are still not set in stone.”
However, one thing will remain the same – her father, Joe McBryan, will still fly the sched.
“It will take a lot more than that to take Joe out of the sky,” said Kathy McBryan.
Since the sched officially began in August 1986, it has flown 186,148 paying passengers. That does not include flights donated by Buffalo Airways.