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Canadian Airlines of the Past

C-GQBH Boeing 707-123B of Quebecair
Toronto Pearson International Airport - 4 November 1978

C-GQBH Boeing 707-123B of Quebecair at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) - 4 November 1978 © Caz Caswell 1978

Photographic Copyright Caz Caswell © 1978-2008

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Notes by: Douglas Holland and Caz Caswell:

    From the beginning through the 1950s     1960s Buy to Expand and the first Jets

    1970'S Two Steps Forward One Step Back     1980-1985 Politics and Turbulent Times

    1986-1988 Privatisation and the End Game     Quebecair Express 2003-2005

    Related Pictures, Notes and Links     Boeing 707 Family External Links

As with so many Canadian Airlines covered in these albums, Quebecair had a very long, but troubled history, with periods of accelerated growth, followed by retrenchment and/or financial crisis. These notes attempt to accurately guide the reader through the Quebecair story. So where else to start, but at the beginning:

From the beginning through the 1950s
In Rimouski Aviation Syndicate in 1946 was formed by a group of Quebec Businessmen, this unwieldy name was changed in 1947 to Rimouski Airlines. Under the guidance of Pierre Laopointe the airline purchased several route licences and began to quietly develop its operations.

In 1953 a major step change occurred when Rimouski Airlines merged with Gulf Aviation and became Quebec-Air. The merger resulted in a mixed fleet of Beech 18, de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver and the Douglas DC-3. Despite being very much a Quebec Airline, Montreal was not served on a scheduled basis until 1957 (although it later became Main base and Headquarters).
Quebec-Air also benefited from Government Contracts, notably in connection with the DEW Line and these kept the Fleet well utilised and were a major contribution to the company's finances.

Disaster struck in 1958 when a hangar fire destroyed three DC 3 Aircraft, but instead of being stopped in its tracks, Quebec-Air immediately replaced the lost aircraft with Fokker F27 Turboprops. These proved to be an inspired choice and proved extremely successful.
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1960s Buy to Expand and the first Jets
As the 1960's dawned, Quebec-Air was on a sound footing and was growing steadily, which meant that additional capacity was required. The company decided to lease-in Convair CV-580 Aircraft and these tended to be used on the Montreal-Quebec City route.

Using its firm financial base, the company entered a period of expansion by acquisition, purchasing:
1965: Matane Air Service, Northern Wings (now Regionair) and Northern Wings Helicopter
1968: Fecteau Air Service
1968: Royale Air

1969 two important and linked events occurred. The first jet aircraft in the shape of BAC 1-11s joined the fleet, whatever the original Commercial Plan for these Aircraft was, it had changed when they were delivered as Air Canada was on strike and the BAC 1-11 were deployed very profitably on the Air Canada Montreal-Toronto Route during the strike period.
When the strike ended Air Canada resumed its monopoly of this Route, but Quebecair now had a 'taste' of this closed market and wanted its own licence, leading to a 12 year battle to obtain it.
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1970'S Two Steps Forward One Step Back
Through its history the company had always maintained a close relationship between itself and the both the Quebec Provincial Government and Government owned, or influenced Businesses. In the early 1970's one result of this relationship was a contract to operate 5 Convair CV-580 Aircraft on behalf of the newly formed SEBJ - Société d'énergie de la Baie James.

Although this and other Government related/influenced contracts were profitable, the Company wanted to expand its Scheduled Services and this meant an almost continuous squabble with Air Canada with Transport Canada being both referee and judge, but itself having to resist pressure from the Quebec Provincial Government to side with Quebecair. But the real prize route, Montreal-Toronto continued to be an Air Canada monopoly. But there were also new Market Opportunities, Holiday Charters and Schedules to the USA and in 1974 Quebecair pursued both acquiring two Boeing 707's (including the one pictured above) and Boeing 727 Aircraft to further its ambitions to provide services to US Cities (eventually serving New York and Boston).

in 1979 with a recession starting the Company withdrew from holiday charters and the 707 Aircraft were sold. However the company decided to update its short haul Jet Fleet and new Boeing 737 Aircraft were purchased.
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1980-1985 Politics and Turbulent Times
Although out of the Holiday Charter Market the Company entered the 1980's with an extensive Routes throughout Quebec and other routes into the rest of Canada and the US Services. The recession was now, not just affecting the Holiday market and the company having to face difficult commercial decisions and these were affecting the relationship between the English Speaking Management and Quebec's French Speaking and increasingly Separatist Politicians.

In 1981 the prize of a scheduled service licence between Montreal and Toronto, which had taken 12 years to achieve was finally granted.

But this was totally overshadowed by events in the boardroom, when the Quebec elections resulted in a Separatist Provincial Government being elected that acted to replace the English Speaking Management Team with a Francophone Management. In addition the new Quebec Provincial Government was so concerned of the effects of recession on its 'National Airline' it took a controlling stake in the company.
At this point Quebecair stopped being a commercial entity to become a political status symbol of Quebec Nationalism.
Despite this some realities needed to be addressed and the Fleet was rationalised and downsized by removing both the Fokker F27's (eventually replaced by HS748's) and the BAC 1-11's.

For the next few years Quebecair was a loss making drain on Government finances, but in operational terms changes were minor.

In 1983 some of the Boeing 737's were sold and replaced by BAC 1-11's. The next change was a re-entering of the Holiday Charter Market in 1984, but this time with leased DC8-63's. Whilst losses continued, it was hoped that the worst was over.

1985 and the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel that 1984 had brought, was extinguished by the failure of the Main Customer for Holiday Charters and losses instead of lessening continued to mount. The Quebec Provincial Government, faced up to the politically unpalatable and put the Airline up for sale. At this time the Fleet consisted of two DC8-63, five Boeing 737-200, three One-Eleven 400, four HS.748, three Convair CV-580 (One of which was in Cargo Configuration and flew with Quebecair Cargo titles).
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1986-1988 Privatisation and the End Game
During the period the Airline was up for sale, the BAC 1-11's disappeared from the fleet, which otherwise remained unchanged.
But it took until July 1986 to sell Quebecair to a consortium made up of Canadian Pacific (initially through Nordair in which it owned a majority stake) which in March 1987 became Canadian Airlines International, (35 per cent), Michel LeBlanc (35 per cent via holding company Gestion Conifair), Mark Racicot (20 per cent via jet fuel supplier Avidair), and Marcel Dutil (10 per cent via holding company Placements CMI). The primary aim of the new owners was to create major regional Carrier, merging their Airline interests, but before this could happen Quebecair's endemic problems need to be resolved.

The new owners took the action that the Quebec Provincial Government felt it couldn't take and slashed staff, routes and fleet size and composition. The DC8-63's (to Nationair see: Nationair Notes ), the Boeing 737-200;s, and four HS.748 Aircraft were removed. The Convair Fleet increased to 8 and a new type the Fokker F.28 Introduced. Staff levels were rapidly brought down from 900 to 500.

The restructuring was aimed at redefining Quebecair as a Regional Feeder Airline, so that it could be merged into other interests. In mid-1987 despite a strike by Ground Staff over pay cuts plus revised terms and conditions the Management were confident that a return to profitability would be achieved by year end.

However the strike deepened and the 300 Ground Staff were joined by 50 Cabin Staff in August. Despite the problems at Quebecair the shareholders felt enough had been done to implement their merger plan and in September 1987 they announced that Quebecair, Nordair Metro, and Quebec Aviation would form Inter-Canadien/Inter-Canadian
(see Inter-Canadien Boeing 737-219 plus associated Inter-Canadien Notes ) and that the new entity would join the Canadian Airlines International Network.

Initially the three Airlines would continue to be separate operationally, but all aircraft would be painted in Inter-Canadien Livery.
This meant that Quebecair was dead, but not yet buried, but during 1988 with all the Aircraft repainted and the operations merged, Quebecair was history.
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Quebecair Express 2003-2005
Quebecair as a brand was almost ingrained in the consciousness of Quebec Canadians and therefore when Guy Marcoux founded a Quebec Regional Airline in 2003, he leveraged this sentiment by naming the Airline Quebecair Express, although there was no connection with the original Airline . Saab 340 Aircraft were used through the short life of the Airline and when grounded on the 1st January 2005 had three in the Fleet. The Airline was made bankrupt later in January 2005 and once again Quebecair name disappeared.
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Related Pictures and associated Notes
Inter-Canadien 737-219 and associated Inter-Canadien Notes

Quebec Aviation - One of the Airlines that formed Inter-Canadien - Previous Picture

Intair - Successor to the first Inter-Canadien and associated Intair Notes

External Links to Sources
Flight PDF Archive plus Quebecair - Wikipedia Entry and Quebecair Express - Wikipedia Entry


Boeing 707 Family External Links
Boeing History - 707/720 Commercial Transport
and
Boeing 707 - Wikipedia Entry

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