Originally founded in 1946 as Bradley Air Services in Ottawa, Ontario, First Air is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Today, the airline is owned by Makivik Corp., the Inuit-owned organization responsible for administering the land claim settlement of the Inuit of northern Quebec.
First Air serves 36 northern communities and offers non-stop flights to the North from Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton together with its codeshare partners.
First Air flies approximately 230,000 passengers annually. In addition, the airline carries more than 22 million kilograms of freight and mail to the northern territories. Some of the communities have few residents, but they depend almost entirely on air transport for their goods.
Over the years, First Air has continued to adapt its fleet to suit the Northern environment and the communities it serves. From its early beginnings, fleet renewal has aided First Air in its ability to provide a much-needed service to Arctic communities.
In 1958, owner Russ Bradley and partner Weldy Phipps mounted tundra tires on Piper Super Cubs and thus revolutionized Arctic explorations capabilities in the process. Over the next decade, Bradley Air Services continued to expand its charter operations in the Arctic by adding larger aircraft to the fleet such as Beavers and single-engine Otters.
Twin Otters were the backbone of the Bradley Air Services fleet for several decades, beginning in 1971. Whether on skis, floats or wheels, the Twin Otters were at home in the Arctic environment and had a reputation as versatile, dependable aircraft in the fleet for scheduled and charter work.
Fast forward another 20 years, 1986 has the company, (now operating under the First Air brand since 1973) purchasing its first Boeing 727-100C for cargo and passenger applications, kicking off its first foray into jet services to the North.
In the 21st century, ATR42-300 aircraft begin replacing the Hawker Siddeley HS748 fleet and all-passenger Boeing 737 jets are introduced.
In 2009, the Boeing 767-223 SF (Super Freighter) is introduced as the first wide body freighter in the fleet.
By 2011, First Air becomes the only operator in the world to fly an ATR 72-212 with variable combi and a full custom designed cargohandling system.
2016 will be an exciting year for First Air as it continues to upgrade the fleet. A $110 million program is underway, with new and replacement aircraft entering the fleet, including a new Boeing 737-400 all-passenger aircratt and an additional Boeing 737-400 combi.
A first in Canada, the airline introduced the ATR 42-500 aircraft in February 2016, as a replacement for its aging ATR 42-300 series. The new ATR 500 series offers improved seating and comfort and has better performance. The upgraded cabin allows for better seating options, as well as an increase in payload capacity.
The first ATR 42-500 to enter the First Air fleet is a 44-seat, allpassenger aircraft with a generous seat pitch, perfectly suited for the harsh weather conditions in Canada’s North and able to operate on gravel runways. The aircraft services the two daily Yellowknife-Hay River flights, as well as Fort Simpson and selected Kitikmeot routes in Nunavut. The second all-passenger ATR 42-500 was introduced in April 2016. First Air will also be introducing several ATR 42-500 combi aircraft later this year, with a fixed configuration for passengers and cargo.
Fleet renewal offers First Air opportunities for growth and new business. From its early days to present day, First Air continues to be adaptable for the Northern environment and to the communities it serves, making it proudly — The Airline of the North.