Article: Grant McConachie and the Pacific Route

  • When Grant McConachie began his career as a bush pilot in 1931, his enthusiasm for flying was not diminished by the grim prospects of the economic depression. Airmail contracts had been cancelled and few customers could afford to ship or travel by plane. Nonetheless, McConachie convinced his wealthy Uncle Henry to invest in a Fokker Standard Universal. McConachie started his business with one plane, hauling fish from Cold Lake, Alberta and expanded over six years into a twelve-plane company he named Yukon Southern Air Transport, serving the Fort McMurray area and Yukon Territory. McConachie’s passion and congeniality also earned him a number of lucrative international contracts throughout the Northwest.

    In 1941, ten bush flying companies (including Yukon Southern) were bought by the Canadian Pacific Railway to form the nucleus of what would later become Canadian Pacific Air Lines (CPA). The largest of these companies was Canadian Airways Limited. McConachie sold his company to the transportation giant for $400,000 and a guaranteed job with the soon-to-be-formed CPA. However, the executives of Canadian Pacific had not anticipated the rivalries that had brewed between companies like MacKenzie Air Service and Canadian Airways Limited. Old feuds over the scarce contracts available in the North now created conflicts between the new corporation’s management. MacConachie learned to remain neutral in these conflicts and this helped him to be fast-tracked for a promotion. He was not CPA’s most experienced pilot, but after only 11 months, Grant McConachie was Assistant to the Vice President of Western Airlines.

    McConachie made it well known that he believed the only way for the company to remain competitive would be to expand their passenger routes beyond Canada’s borders. As World War II came to a close, however, the Government of Canada had other plans. In an effort to protect publicly owned Trans-Canada Air Lines, all other air services in Canada were barred from flying transcontinental routes. Trans-Canada Air Lines was also the only airline permitted to fly internationally. In 1947, at the age of 39, McConachie was named President of CPA and made it his mission to see these policies reversed.

    While Trans-Canada Air Lines operated a successful transatlantic service, they had not yet branched into the Pacific market. Thanks in part to Trans-Canada Air Lines hesitance to make new investments, McConachie successfully lobbied the Government for the sole right to develop a trans-Pacific route. The operating costs of the venture would be astronomical, about $500 an hour for flights from Vancouver to Australia via Hawaii. McConachie was undeterred; he correctly predicted that as the first Canadian company in the market a few years of deficit would soon net record profits.

    Grant McConachie’s eagerness to create his own opportunities, no matter the risk, had given Canadian passengers the first air routes over the Pacific in 1949. As President, McConachie would inspire his staff to take risks with advice from his humble beginning, “… if I had fussed around with market studies and cost ratios, I’d still be hauling fish.”


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