Canadian Airlines International was the result of the merger of various provincial airlines with Canada's second force CPAir (briefly Canadian Pacific again before the merger). The prime mover in all of this was Pacific Western, which undertook the reverse takeover of CPAir. Other well known names subsumed in the resulting airline were Nordair, Eastern Provincial and the remnants of Quebecair. Wardair would later be added also but is not relevant for this piece.
The core of all of the 5 components of Canadian in 1987 was the at the time increasingly popular Boeing 737. However by the mid-80s it was the 737-300 and 400, which were new to the market and successfully fighting it out with the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and beginning to come up against the new Airbus A320. The latter was at the time still very much an unknown quantity and Airbus wasn't the force it would become later in the 1990s. The older 737-200 was actually still in production with the last delivered to Xiamen Airlines in August 1988. By that time the 737-300 had been in service for nearly 4 years.
The 737-200 had first flown in mid-1967 and sold poorly until the base type was updated into the 737-200 Advanced model, which entered service with All Nippon in 1971. Outsold by its larger brother the 727 (especially in the 727-200 Advanced form) the 737 came into its own during the early deregulation years (powering expansion at airlines like Piedmont) and sold well with an eventual 1,095 aircraft built. In Canada the 737 had always had success however and none of the provincial airlines (Nordair, Pacific Western, Quebecair, Transair, Eastern Provincial) had ordered the competing Douglas DC-9. Only Quebecair strayed from the 737 pack and bought BAC One-Elevens, however by the early 1980s it had replaced these with 737s also.
All this love for the baby Boeing meant that the new Canadian Airlines received 70 Boeing 737-200s upon formation, alongside fourteen widebody DC-10s. CPAir had itself already decided to focus on the 737-200 and its infant plans to replace them with 737-300s was swiftly rejected and the small number operated sold on in 1986 when the impending avalanche of series 200s became apparent. Canadian actually operated 3 others for small periods between 1987 and 1989 but all were off-loaded permanently to Britain's Monarch Airlines in April 1989.
Even though all the 70 737s were series 200s they were not all equal. In fact they included aircraft produced from almost the entire length of the production run - from C-FNAB delivered to Nordair in 1968 to C-GWPW delivered new to Pacific Western in 1985. Nine or ten of the fleet were original non-Advanced 737-200s and helpfully using the Boeing customer designator you can determine the original customer as follows:
Various other customer numbers were littered throughout the fleet noting aircraft originally delivered to other operators and leased either from them or through lessors like ILFC and GPA. These included Malaysia Singapore Airlines (212), Transavia (2K2), Monarch (2T7), Orion Airways (2T5) and Britannia (204).
Trimming the 737 fleet began soon after the merger, though initially 3 aircraft were added on short 6 month to 1.5 year leases. Six of the leased frames were returned by 1990 with the remaining 3 gone by the end of 1991. The five eldest aircraft were also all disposed of quickly. These included a pair of 242Cs, a pair of 217s and one of the three 1969 build 2E1s. The remaining pair of 1960s build frames were stored in March 1993. Around the same time the next 7 oldest aircraft were also sold whilst three 1974 built frames were leased out to America West in 1989 for nearly a decade. This left 46 aircraft in the fleet into early 1995.
Further withdrawals were limited with the last two pre-1974 aircraft and another from 1975 going in late 1995 and two 1980 series 275s sold to Bahamasair in December 1997. The three aircraft with America West were however returned and re-entered service. That left 44 737-200s in the fleet into the new millenium - the oldest of which was C-GAPW dating from 1974. This compared to only 13 A320s with the two types forming the entire short-haul fleet.
The 737s transferred to the Air Canada fleet and I imagine were not warmly welcomed. Air Canada was at the time just about to finish replacing its very last Douglas DC-9-30s with new Airbus A319s. Their last DC-9 was retired finally on January 18, 2002 and it had been a lengthy process from the original A319 order in 1994. Fortunately Air Canada at the time had several sub-businesses which could use the 737-200s. Nineteen went to the new Air Canada ZIP low-cost subsidiary which operated against WestJet in Western Canada until September 2004. The last series 200 in mainline service appears to have been sometime during 2003. This brought to an end 737-200 operations with the regulated era airlines but certainly not series 200 operations in Canada.
Though I'm sure Canadian would have preferred to have replaced the 200s in the early 90s they continued to do everything that was asked of them into the 2000s and wore a wide array of Canadian liveries during their long careers.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: