Pacific Coastal Airlines has been flying in and out of Williams Lake for a decade, said the company’s sales and marketing director Keith Boothroyd Tuesday.
“We always say we’re B.C.’s biggest little airline,” Boothroyd said. “A large portion of the business is corporate flying, resource base and First Nations.”
Born in the backwoods of B.C., the company was started almost 40 years ago in Bella Coola by Daryl Smith, a truck-logger with a small young family.
To augment his logging income, when times were slow, Smith started selling goods and supplies to industrial and logging camps up around coastal B.C.
“Of course driving in and out’s not an easy job,” Boothroyd said. Eventually Smith obtained a pilot’s license and a seaplane so he could commute into difficult to reach and remote places.
“Very quickly, because there was a lack of service, he became a taxi cab service, dropping this guy off here or this package there,” Boothroyd said.
“All of a sudden an airline was uncovered. Daryl’s pretty much a legend in the aviation industry. He’s won a ton of awards.”
Today Pacific Coastal is the sixth largest airline of all airlines flying out of Vancouver International Airport (YVR). It’s bigger than British Airways and Singapore Airlines.
“In YVR alone, this so called little airline does over 220,000 outbound seats, just in the province of B.C. a year. It’s around 360,000 province-wide.”
And when it comes to take-offs and landings, it is the third largest company in YVR.
“Not bad for a truck-logger from Bella Coola,” he added.
The company flies to more than 65 regularly scheduled destinations. Some of those flights are bi-weekly or once a month, but they are scheduled.
Aside from Williams Lake, the company’s wheel-based planes fly to places like Victoria, Vancouver, Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Port Hardy, Cranbrook and Trail.
A seaplane base operating out of Port McNeill covers small coastal communities, including direct flights to fishing lodges.
“We cover a huge swath of the province that isn’t covered by other airlines,” Boothroyd said. “For a large portion of the communities we serve we are the deliverer of mail, food for band stores, you name it, supplies and equipment.”
The company has 24 aircraft, its biggest being the 30-passenger Saab a340, but the real workhorse is the Beechcraft 1900.
“That’s the one you have to kind of crouch in to get in, but once you’re seated every seat is a window and an aisle seat and it’s quite comfortable,” Bathroyd said of the Beechcraft.
On Dec. 4 the company began offering a Bella Bella to Campbell River route, which will make hospital visits more convenient.
“I like to call us an off-Broadway flyer. We know who we are and that’s one of the nice things about our company. We’re designed and built to serve those communities that are otherwise not serviced.”
This year the company won three best of business awards from local chambers of commerce.
It won the Richmond Leadership Award, BCSPCA’s Carrying Company of the Year, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medallion for 40 years of support for Special Olympics B.C., an award from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue for transporting mammals and eagles.
Looking back over the last four decades, Boothroyd said the company has made impressive achievements in a very difficult industry.
“Some famous person said the easiest way to make a million dollars is to put two million dollars into an airline.”