Carrier Launches ‘Air Barge’ Service After Northern River Dries Up


One of Northern Canada’s largest air freight companies is cutting its rates to supply remote communities whose regular river barge service has been canceled for the summer because of low water in MacKenzie River. Buffalo Airways announced last week that it would operate a weekly “air barge” service to communities along the MacKenzie River in the Sahtu Nation of the Northwest Territories to “bridge the gap between scheduled air cargo rates and those offered by barge shipment providers.” Buffalo will match barge rates for some cargo, but the cost for some items will be higher. The move will also prevent the gouging by air carriers feared by some community leaders.

Truck service to the area is only available during winter when the ground is frozen and able to support the weight. Most of the community’s needs are met then, but the barges are vital for perishables and other cargo. The barges also carry large items like machinery, vehicles and construction materials that are too big for air freight. Buffalo will use its lone Boeing 737-300 for the route. It will carry up to 42,000 pounds of freight to Norman Wells every Saturday and flights will be added if necessary.

The airline, which is famous for its use of Second World War DC-3 and C-46 aircraft through much of its network, said in a news release it launched the air barge service as a gesture of support for the region, which is part of Buffalo’s regular network. “While the Air Barge program won’t solve all the challenges shippers are faced with this year, it is designed to provide the most cost-effective alternative to barge freight for those that can’t wait until the next winter road season to move their cargo,” Buffalo said in a statement.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Liked watching these guys on TV. Always amazed how they serviced, maintained and flew the C-46’s in the thick of Alaska’s winter.

    • Me Chugging My Cold Beer: “Man, this gotta be the hottest summer ever!”
      Some Old Guy At The Bar: “Or, this is the coolest summer in the rest of your life. HAW!”

      • I once flew from a heat wave in Calgary to Whitehorse, beautiful summer day. Upon landing in Whitehorse the ramp guy marshalled me to parking, he was wearing a thin t-shirt and shorts. When I got out of the airplane it felt like I entered a blast freezer. I scrambled for a sweater, it was 55 degrees F.

        I asked the guy “buddy aren’t you cold??? He looked at me like I was nuts and said simply, “dude, it’s summer”!

  2. There is a new damn on the biggest contributor to the Mackenzie River. The new Damn is on the Peace River and is being filled causing low water here as well. Very low snowfall this winter and several dry years are helping the situation.
    This is not a new phenominum and is NOT caused by climate change.
    Raising energy prices will not fix this.

  3. Think very carefully about the relationship of these to statements:
    “Very low snowfall this winter and several dry years are helping the situation.”
    “This is not a new phenominum and is NOT caused by climate change.”

    Do you see how, perhaps, a change in the weather such as low snowfall, low precipitation in general, and hotter temperatures might be, by definition, climate change?

    • Might be. Or, might be part of a normal pattern. There’s a six or seven year drought cycle in parts of central Texas that have been going on for as long as anyone can remember. Always fun to hear climate change activists try to use it as “proof”.

      The biggest problem we have dealing with climate change has come from bad rhetoric and bad scientists. It would always be hard to get cooperation, but politicizing science, and doing it badly, was a big fail.

  4. A Canadian aviation story by Russ Niles. Novel. Good story Russ and kudos to Buffalo Airways.

    • Ten percent of our readers are Canadian and Canadian aviation punches above its weight in terms of global impact. News is news.