October 09, 2012

Happy Birthday Air Canada

Click to view anniversary edition of enRoute

In the new skies of the 21st Century, experience speaks volumes. Roderick Eime looks back.

The mighty radial engines splutter to life on the tarmac at Vancouver. Captain Zebulon Lewis "Lewie" Leigh peers out of the open cockpit window of the shiny new Lockheed Electra 10A. “Chocks away!” he calls to the ground crew and CF-AZY taxis out to the runway with two passengers and mail destined for Seattle.

The date is September 1, 1937, and it’s a day etched in Canadian aviation history. Seventy-five years ago, Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) makes its first ever commercial flight, a 50-minute hop costing $7.20. By 1939 TCA is flying a multi-hop route across the great expanse of Canada between Vancouver and Montreal in around 15 hours delivering mail and passengers.

Things move fast for the fledgling airline and coping with the demands of WWII means more women are employed as agents, drivers, radio operators and even mechanics as men are drafted into war service. Transatlantic services begin in 1943 using converted Lancaster bombers, called Lancastrians, for the hazardous 12.5 hour flight and by 1946, 20 pilots had clocked over one million miles each.

By necessity as much as demand, TCA was the first to use alcohol de-icing, fixed in-cabin oxygen systems and (now mandatory) maintenance specification standards. In 1964, TCA became Air Canada (AC), four years after the revolutionary introduction of all-jet DC-8 aircraft on transatlantic and transcontinental routes. In 1962, the airline’s 25th anniversary and another milestone, The Queen Mother completes her first commercial flight aboard an AC DC-8 between London and Ottawa in just six hours.

Mod set: 1960s uniforms of Air Canada

Innovations continue and in 1963 TCA introduces the world’s first computerised reservations system, ReserVec. The system was designed and manufactured in Canada by Ferranti Canada. Two million visitors see the airline’s pavilion at Montreal’s Expo 67 and in 1971, the first 340 ton, 365-seat Boeing 747 enters service for AC serving Vancouver, London and Paris from Toronto.

The first aircraft to fly between Vancouver
and Sydney (www.abpic.co.uk)
While the first flights between Vancouver and Sydney were made in July 1949 by Canadian Pacific Air Lines (later incorporated into Air Canada), the first daily non-stop flights (AC33/34 and onward to Toronto) began in December 2007 using the new 777-300ER aircraft and thereby avoiding the sometimes inconvenient transit stops in Hawaii. An additional three seasonal non-stops will operate every week from 16 December 2012 until 30 January 2013.

More recently, AC have been either first or among the first to introduce electronic ticketing (1995), all non smoking (1990), in-seat telephones (1992), web specials (1997) and express check-in kiosks (1999) cementing their position as one of the most progressive airlines in the world. In the last few years alone, AC have also been at the forefront of such technological breakthroughs as smartphone apps and boarding passes, seatback entertainment, 191cm lie-flat business class beds and now mobile booking.

Air Canada Concierge
Apart from access to the award-winning Maple Leaf lounges, Air Canada Super Elite and Executive First customers can enjoy exclusive dedicated service in 20 airports around the world from more than 150 carefully selected Concierge Agents, smoothing customer transit and attending to last-minute travel arrangements.

In 2012, Air Canada was ranked ‘Best International Airline in North America’ for the third year running in a worldwide survey of more than 18 million airline passengers conducted by independent research firm Skytrax.

Going forward, AC has 37 firm orders plus 13 options for the game-changing Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with first delivery of the aircraft due in 2014.

“During our 75 year history, we have built a proud tradition of being a leader in terms of customer comfort, safety and convenience. Among the many innovations pioneered by Air Canada over our history are developments now adopted by our industry across the board. We thank our customers for choosing Air Canada over the past 75 years and we look forward to serving them for the next 75 and beyond,” said Calin Rovinescu, President and Chief Executive Officer of Air Canada.

21st Century Airline: current B777 and soon-to-be-introduced B787 Dreamliner

Air Canada Today

Air Canada flies daily from Sydney to Vancouver with state-of-the-art B777-200LR aircraft and onto more than 175 destinations on five continents. It provides scheduled passenger service directly to 59 Canadian cities, 56 destinations in the United States and 63 cities in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. Air Canada is Canada's largest domestic and international airline and is a founding member of Star Alliance, the world's most comprehensive air transportation network serving 1,356 destinations in 193 countries.

Visit: www.aircanada.com or see your travel agent.

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