Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Buffalo Airways, of TV's Ice Pilots Northwest Territories, has license suspended: Transport Canada previously cited 'adversarial relationship' in dealings with airline

Mikey McBryan, general manager of N.W.T.'s Buffalo Airways, was among the family and staff featured on the reality TV show Ice Pilots NWT.

Transport Canada has grounded the operations of Buffalo Airways, the popular northern airline chronicled over six seasons on TV's Ice Pilots NWT, due to safety compliance issues.

In a release Tuesday, the regulator said it is suspending the airline's air operator certificate due to its "poor safety record."

The suspension took effect Monday at 11:59 p.m.

"The department will not allow Buffalo Airways to resume its commercial air service until it proves it can keep its operations consistently compliant with aviation safety regulations," the release stated.

Transport Canada says it consulted the airline in the lead-up to the suspension.

A history of incidents

The suspension follows a history of incidents. 

In August 2013, a Buffalo Airways DC-3 made a hard landing at the Yellowknife airport 30 seconds after takeoff, and right after its right engine burst into flames. All 24 people on board were fine, a fact some attributed to a "damn good pilot."

Four months later, a Buffalo Airways C-46 plane, bound to pick up freight in Hay River, N.W.T., caught fire after it blew an engine while taxiing down the runway at the Yellowknife airport. 

Last summer, the company was fined after pleading guilty to three violations of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. The airline was charged with using too-large tanks to haul diesel fuel to two remote exploration camps in 2012, with improper labelling and missing paperwork. 

Company official Rod McBryan said Buffalo had been using the tanks for 35 years.

This October, a cargo plane belonging to Buffalo Airways crash landed outside of Deline, N.W.T.

Earlier this year, the TSB released its report into the 2013 hard landing in Yellowknife. 

'Adversarial relationship'

The report cited engine failure and an overloaded plane, as well as larger concerns about the airline's safety practices.

The board wrote: "… the organizational culture at Buffalo Airways was not supportive of a system that required the organization to take a proactive role in identifying hazards and reducing risks.

"The company's response to deficiencies identified during [Transport Canada] surveillance activities demonstrated an adversarial relationship between the company and the regulator."

The History Channel aired the last episode of Ice Pilots NWT, which depicted the day-to-day operations of Buffalo Airways, in December 2014.

The show helped the airline based in Hay River, N.W.T., garner a cult following.

Story, comments and photos:

YELLOWKNIFE – A northern air carrier behind the popular TV show “Ice Pilots” has been grounded over safety concerns.

And a Transportation Safety Board report into the operations of Yellowknife’s Buffalo Airways has raised questions about how Canada ensures all its air carriers are operating safely.

“The current approach to regulatory oversight, which focuses on an operator’s (practices) almost to the exclusion of verifying compliance with the regulations, is at risk of failing to address unsafe practices and conditions,” says the report.

Buffalo Airways was the subject of a reality TV show that ran six seasons on the History Canada channel. Transport Canada pulled the carrier’s operating licence on Tuesday and the airline is prohibited from providing commercial air services.

“Transport Canada took this serious action in the interest of public safety because of Buffalo Airways’ poor safety record,” said a government release.

The suspension comes after an investigation into a crash in 2013. Shortly after takeoff, one of Buffalo’s Second World War era DC-3 airplanes had an engine failure and crashed into trees while the pilot was trying to circle and land.

None of the 21 passengers and three crew was injured.

An investigation by the Transportation Safety Board found a list of shortcomings in the airline’s maintenance of operations.

The engine failed from an undetected cylinder crack. A pump that would have adjusted the dead propeller to keep the plane manoeuvrable didn’t work. Passengers and freight weren’t weighed before takeoff and the plane was significantly overweight.

The TSB’s report pointed out that Transport Canada had conducted “surveillance activities” on Buffalo four times over the previous three years. The carrier had adopted an “adversarial” stance to inspectors, the report noted.

“The company refuted the regulatory basis of findings, questioned the competence of (Transport Canada) investigators and initially did not take responsibility for the issues identified.”

The report raised questions over Transport Canada’s reliance on so-called safety management. Such systems let carriers tailor safety practices to meet their operating requirements, as long as they are within guidelines set out in regulations. Companies are to measure how well their practices work.

Not only were Buffalo’s systems inadequate, Transport Canada’s inspections didn’t catch the problems, said the safety board’s report.

“The focus of all surveillance activities conducted in the three years leading up to the occurrence was on process related to the (safety management system). Transport Canada’s surveillance activities did not identify the operator’s unsafe operating practices.

“Consequently, these practices persisted.”

The report suggested that federal inspectors not only must check that safety practices are in place, but must actively ensure planes meet standards, especially when there’s a recalcitrant operator.

“It (Transport Canada) does not adopt a balanced approach that combines inspections for compliance with audits of safety management processes, unsafe operating practices may not be identified.”

Officials with Transport Canada or Buffalo Airways were not immediately available for comment.



  1. Having found the series on Netflix, I loved it because of the old aircraft and the "get 'er done" approach they applied to working on the Canadian northern frontier. Perhaps they and I have an out-of-fashion concept to doing life and business, a "living in the past" mentality enabled by those old piston-powered aircraft, a recklessness long abandoned by "best practices" business, but it was the way things used to work and is mourned in ways that defy modern logic.

  2. So exciting to feel as tho you were right in the cockpit with these amazingly talented Pilots! ICE PILOTS forever!