Harbour air conquers canada's west coast

Since its launch more than a quarter of a century ago Canada's Harbour Air has become arguably the world's largest seaplane operator. The Vancouver-based company was the brainchild of three pilots including company chief executive Greg McDougall who saw an opportunity to create an airline to service the British Columbia forest industry.

The partners acquired two floatplanes and established a base on the waterfront of Vancouver.

"We have taken an unsophisticated product and sophisticated it," says Mc­Dougall. When Harbour Air began, seaplanes were largely viewed as rugged and basic utility aircraft. "We have worked very hard to market our aircraft - a mixture of de Havilland DHC-2 Beavers and DHC-3 single-engine Otters - which are in top notch shape and equipped with the latest safety management systems."

The dedication and determination has paid off as Harbour Air now boasts a fleet of 37 aircraft and operates to and from nine bases across British Columbia alone. "We have created a "highly successful" business model which has enabled us to forge a very positive and professional relationship with the public," says McDougall. "We have emulated the high standards of business and commercial aviation within our seaplane operation to give the customer convenient, flexible, and unforgettable service," he says.

Harbour Air has run sightseeing tours since its launch but the introduction 10 years ago of its scheduled services has transformed the company's fortunes. "Sightseeing tours have always been popular and their growth has been steady," says McDougall. "However our business really took off when the scheduled services were introduced and we are now witnessing year-on-year dollar growth of around 20%," he adds.

Scheduled passenger numbers are also climbing by 10% a year and in 2007 Harbour Air carried 400,000 passengers. "For most people using the seaplane has become a no brainer - for example, spend five hours getting to Victoria by boat or 30min by air?" McDougall says. Given the choice, he argues people will always fly downtown to downtown and if there is a waterfront "we will try to establish a base there".

Harbour Air is looking to offer a service in Seattle if and when the restrictions aimed at waterfront operations are lifted in the city. The company's ambitions are not limited to its Vancouver-based operation. Last year Harbour Air established a subsidiary in Malta with Otters, which has been widely welcomed.

Its affiliate AerSea Lines of Greece is expanding at a rapid rate with its growing fleet of DHC-6 Twin Otters. The Athens-based company is now in its third year of operation and looks set to be one of the first recipients of the new Viking Air Twin Otter Series 400 for which it has placed an undisclosed number of orders. "Europe has a great deal of potential and there are other places where we would like to expand including Spain and Italy," McDougall says.

Meanwhile, Harbour Air's subsidiary North Pacific Seaplanes is also growing. Based in Prince Rupert, northern British Columbia, the operator offers air tours and scheduled services with six Otters and Beavers.

Source: Flight International