A Look At Some Of Air Canada’s Historical Innovations

Not every airline in the world has a particular webpage dedicated to its history of innovation and shaping the aviation industry. Air Canada, however, does have such a page. Officially founded in 1936 as Trans-Canada Air Lines, Air Canada has been in operation now for more than 86 years and has a surprising number of interesting and respectable claims to its name. Let’s take a look at the highlights…

safety first

It looks like Air Canada was quite influential when it came to some core systems of aviation safety. Between 1939 and 1946, Air Canada was one of the first airlines to have its entire fleet of unpressurized aircraft equipped with fixed oxygen systems. These were installed and used by flight crew and passengers as needed, using the “rebreathing bag principle.”

Some two decades later, Air Canada participated in the development of the multi-channel flight recorder. Collaborating with Royston Instruments, an English electronics company, in 1965, Air Canada engineers helped to produce the multi-channel flight recorder – colloquially referred to as “the black box.” Air Canada notes that the device was first installed on its DC-8 and Vanguard aircraft.


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With the introduction of the DC-8F Jet Trader, Air Canada was the first in the world to operate an all-cargo jet. Photo: Air Canada

Some 25 years after that, in 1990, Air Canada was the first scheduled airline to offer non-smoking flights between North America and Europe. Perhaps equally an issue of comfort as it is immediate safety, the airline was also the first Canadian carrier to ban smoking on all of its charter and scheduled flights within North America and the Caribbean two years prior, in September 1988.


Cleverness in cold weather

Experiencing its fair share of frigid temperatures and intense snowstorms, Air Canada found ways to adapt its aircraft to cold weather conditions. As such, it was the first airline to equip its fleet with alcohol de-icing nozzles ahead of the windscreen. Installation began with the Lockheed 1408 and 1808 aircraft and would allow for de-icing coverage of the complete windscreen.

Air Canada would also be the first in the country to adopt electric de-icing of aerodynamic surfaces. This appeared with the introduction of Vickers Vanguard aircraft in 1961. The carrier claims to have a number of “first in Canada” achievements. However, this shouldn’t be too surprising, given that Air Canada has always been the nation’s largest airline.


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Like many ‘northern’ carriers, Air Canada has learned how to adapt to cold weather conditions. Photo: Air Canada

Transforming ticket technology

Electronic systems are now one of the more common ways to receive proof that you have a seat booked on a flight. While it wasn’t Air Canada specifically that introduced this innovation, it was a Canadian firm that introduced the world’s first computerized reservations system.

Designed and manufactured in Canada by Ferranti Canada, this system “fostered tremendous growth in computerized and communications airlines processes.” Developed for Trans-Canada Air Lines, the ReserVec system’s implementation was completed on January 24, 1963, and predates the more famous and ubiquitous SABER system by roughly two years.

We also perhaps take the concept of a single itinerary with multiple airlines for granted today, as such a thing was not always possible. This was made much easier with electronic tickets. Indeed, it was in 2000 that Air Canada and United Airlines introduced the world’s first interline electronic ticket. This made airline partnerships much smoother, offering travelers more options to get from one place to another.

Four years later, in 2004, Air Canada would introduce an industry-first: Self-managed online multi-trip flight passes. This would lead to the creation of fixed monthly payment subscription passes for unlimited travel.


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Air Canada was the in Canada to operate the Airbus A320, taking first delivery on January 25th, 1990 in Toulouse (France). Photo: Air Canada

Then in 2007, Air Canada would become the first airline in North America to introduce electronic boarding passes for mobile check-in. Rolled out around the same time as Apple’s first iPhone, this allowed customers holding a cellular phone or smartphone to keep their boarding pass on their phone.

Without even discussing Air Canada’s founding-member status in the first-ever airline alliance, it appears that the carrier has contributed a great deal to aviation and how passengers travel the world.

Did you know about any of these Air Canada’ claims to fame’? Let us know by leaving a comment.


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