5/13/1970: Joe McBryan Founds Buffalo Airways

Today in Aviation, the family-run Buffalo Airways (J4) was founded in 1970 by pilot Joe McBryan.



May 13, 2023

DALLAS - Today in Aviation, the family-run Buffalo Airways (J4) was founded in 1970 by pilot Joe McBryan, or 'Buffalo Joe' after purchasing it from legendary Arctic aviator Bob Gauchie.

Gauchie held the ATB license of the airline, which was established in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, before it was sold to pilot Buffalo Joe.

Buffalo Airways offers charter (passenger and cargo), firefighting, and fuel service flights from its bases at Yellowknife (YZF), Hay River/Merlyn Carter (YHY) and Red Deer Regional (YQF) airports.

Buffalo Airways slogan is 'Your Passage to the North.' Photo: Buffalo Airways

AOC Issues

From August 1986 until November 2015, J4 also offered scheduled passenger services. One hundred eighty-six thousand passengers were carried during this period on flights between YZF and YHY. However, the suspension of the carrier's Air Operators Certificate (AOC) by Transport Canada due to its "poor safety record" led to these flights being cancelled. 

The issues with the AOC led to 'Buffalo Joe' stepping away from the day-to-day running of the airline. This followed the instruction of a consultation company brought in to assist the troubled carrier in getting the certificate reinstated. Transport Canada subsequently restored the AOC in January 2016. The scheduled links have yet to be relaunched.

The airline operates a unique fleet to suit its various operations. Photo: Buffalo Airways

Television Star

Buffalo Airways is more than just an airline. In 2007, it launched a clothing line with over 30 products. It also became part of the reality television series 'Ice Pilots NWT.' Premiering in November 2009, the program ran for six series until 2014. It covered the behind-the-scenes life at the airline. The show helped Buffalo garner a cult following. 

According to the airline's website, J4 has a fleet of three Douglas DC-3s, two C-46 Curtiss Commando's, four Lockheed L-188 Electra's, four Bombardier CL-215s, four King Air 100s, two King Air 90s, two Beechcraft Barons, two Twin Commander 690Cs, and a single Cessna 310. There are also numerous airframes in 'Buffalo Joe's Private Collection.'


Featured image: Lockheed L-188 Electra (C-GZFE) still wears the livery of its previous operator, UK cargo carrier Air Atlantique. Photo: Buffalo Airways