If an Air Spray plane breaks down while fighting a forest wildfire and needs a new part, the go-to courier has always been Greyhound.
No matter where a grounded plane is in Western Canada — whether northern B.C., the Yukon or Northwest Territories — chances are good that a Greyhound bus depot is somewhere nearby, said Paul Lane, chief operating officer for Air Spray.
But as of Oct. 31 all of these depots will be closing: Greyhound Canada announced plans to pull out of Western Canada, calling its passenger and courier service unsustainable outside of southern Ontario and Quebec.
“It’s a big loss for us,” said Lane, whose company, with planes flying out of Red Deer Regional Airport, has been using Greyhound buses to deliver parts on a daily basis for most of its 50-year history.
“Our people always know who to pick up the phone and call…It’s been the backbone of what we’ve been doing…”
The biggest convenience is all those remote depots: “If we’re in the field, up in Slave Lake, and we need a part, we know the bus will be able to get it up there,” Lane added.
Without Greyhound, he noted, Air Spray will likely have to use its own planes to fly parts, which will be more expensive.
Mustang Helicopters, of Blackfalds, also relies on Greyhound as a courier for similar reasons.
“We’ll definitely miss the service,” said Darcy Schellenberg, the stores manager, who averages two shipments a day and had gotten to know the local Greyhound workers
The advantage is it’s always possible to pick parts up from bus depots, Schellenberg added. Most other couriers have to deliver to a specific address, but if a helicopter is stranded in a remote location, no address can be given.
Many Central Alberta oilfield-related businesses also have been using Greyhound buses to ship parts and samples. Steve Kirschner, manager of the Red Deer branch of Trojan Safety Services, said other couriers don’t service many smaller communities, so he wonders about getting future deliveries to the company branch in Weyburn, Sask.
Trojan has used cost-effective Greyhound for about 20 per cent of its (mostly non-urgent) deliveries, “but a lot of our employees use the bus service too,” added Kirschner.
Local businesses believe other couriers will eventually figure out new ways of operating to be more competitive and fill service gaps.
But Schellenberg believes the job losses from Greyhound pulling out of Western Canada could hit many smaller communities hard, since local third-party workers were often contracted to do pickups and deliveries.
While the closure of the bus depots will be felt, Lane rationalized, “You can’t force someone to be in business” if there’s no money to be made — and Greyhound is a for-profit operation, not a public service.