Pacific Coastal

Aviation pioneer founded third-busiest airline at Vancouver International

Daryl Smith with a Beaver floatplane (photo: Pacific Coastal Airline).

A truck logger-turned-pilot who started with a single floatplane serving remote logging camps and built it into the third-busiest airline at Vancouver International Airport has died.

Daryl Smith founded Pacific Coastal Airlines and built it into an essential lifeline for a host of smaller communities across British Columbia. He died February 1 with his family by his side.

“The British Columbia Aviation Council is deeply saddened by the loss of one of its greatest supporters and multiple award winners – a true entrepreneur and pioneer,” the council said Monday in a tribute.

Smith got his start as a pilot when he bought a small seaplane to reach some of the more remote logging camps along the rugged B.C. coast. “Some friends chipped in for fuel to tag along and thus began the adventure that led to Pacific Coastal Airlines,” the airline said on its website.

“Throughout his early flying days as a seaplane charter pilot and flying salesperson, Daryl was constantly searching for an opportunity that eventually materialized itself in the creation of Wilderness Airline, Canyon Airways, Powell Air, and finally Pacific Coastal Airlines,” said a family obituary.

Powell Air started operations in Powell River, B.C. in 1975, flying a variety of charter flights aboard Cessna, de Havilland Beaver, de Havilland Otter, Piper Aztec, and Piper Navajo aircraft. In 1981, the airline would be awarded the right to operate between Powell River and Vancouver.

Pacific Coastal ranks third at Vancouver International for arrivals and departures, behind Air Canada and Westjet (photo: Brett Ballah).

But it wasn’t until 1987, when Powell Air merged with a portion of the former Air BC operations in Port Hardy on Vancouver Island that Smith hit on his big idea.

That idea was Pacific Coastal Airlines which found a niche flying routes larger airlines had abandoned or overlooked. Using a fleet of propeller-driven Saab 340 and Beech 1900 aircraft, Pacific Coastal connected communities across British Columbia with its hub at Vancouver’s South Terminal, where lines were small, services were few, and costs low.

“From its inception, Daryl was clear that Pacific Coastal, known to many as Pasco, would seek to support the people and communities it served,” said the family. “That spirit of giving is deeply embedded in its corporate culture and supported by its dedicated team of employees.”

Pacific Coastal would become the third-busiest airline at Vancouver, based on its daily departures, and sixth-busiest based on the number of seats.

A Pacific Coastal Saab 340 in Westjet Link colours sits on the tarmac at Calgary International Airport (photo: Brett Ballah).

In 2017, opportunity knocked again with Westjet seeking a partner airline for flights to smaller centres in Alberta. Westjet Link was born, with Pacific Coastal flying the aircraft, and Westjet handling the seats and reservations.

“[Smith] knew what he wanted to do and he knew how to do it,” read his obituary. “He had a fierce desire for knowledge, mental and physical strength, determination and daring. A deep thinker and concise communicator, there was never any doubt about where he stood. He was tough but fair, discerning, wise and extremely generous.

Daryl Smith won the Rob S. Day Trophy for his contributions to aviation (photo: British Columbia Aviation Council).

Smith was awarded the Rob S. Day Trophy from the B.C. Aviation Council in 1998 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 for his contributions to the industry.

“His family acknowledges this remarkable man and will honour him every day through fond memories and in the way they live their lives.”

Smith is survived by his wife of of 58 years, Dorren and three children. His son Quentin remains president of Pacific Coastal, which still belongs to the family.

Smith was 80 years old. A service in his memory is planned Friday in Powell River.

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