Canada’s Fascinating Rescue Flight To Morocco

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Countries around the world are operating repatriation flights at the moment, though Canada’s flight to evacuate citizens from Morocco is probably the most interesting as an airline geek.

What are repatriation flights?

We’re increasingly seeing governments add new immigration restrictions. In some cases the restrictions are mild, while in other cases they’re extreme. For those outside their home country, this can be a challenging time, especially with many airlines drastically cutting their schedules.

As a result, we’ve seen some flights operated with the intention of bringing home people who are “stuck” abroad. I’m not really sure about the back-end economics of these. My assumption would be that the government is essentially paying to lease a plane, whether that plane comes from a commercial airline, or is coming from a wet leasing aircraft company.

Nolinor 737-200 used for transatlantic flights

The Boeing 737-200 is one of the original versions of the 737, and that’s exactly what Canada is using for at least one flight intended to evacuate Canadians from Morocco.

The 737-200 in question is being operated by Nolinor, which is a charter airline based in Montreal. The carrier operates a variety of aircraft types, the largest of which is the 737 (they have both a -200 and a -300).

Well, Nolinor’s 737-200, with the registration code C-GNLN, was used to operate one of the Morocco evacuation flights. The plane in question is nearly 37 years old, and funny enough used to fly for Royal Air Maroc (from 1983 until 2007), until it was transferred to Nolinor.

How did a 737-200 fly from Canada to Morocco?

Tracking the flight data for C-GNLN the past few days is absolutely fascinating.

How did the plane get from Montreal to Casablanca?

  • On Thursday morning the plane flew from Montreal to Goose Bay
  • On Thursday afternoon the plane flew from Goose Bay to Reykjavik
  • On Thursday evening the plane flew from Reykjavik to Shannon
  • On Friday morning the plane flew from Shannon to Casablanca

The direct air distance would have been ~3,500 miles, but instead the plane operated a total of four segments to get there, covering a distance of over 4,500 miles, with a total flight time (in the air) of just over 10 hours.

The plane took exactly the same routing on the way back — it must have been a long day for the crew, because they turned around from Casablanca the same morning they flew in from Shannon (they had spent the night in Shannon).

I would imagine the reason for all the stops came down to a few factors:

  • The plane doesn’t have the range to fly nonstop
  • The 737-200 has limited ETOPS capabilities, so needed to stay fairly close to suitable diversion points, meaning flying over Iceland, etc., was necessary
  • While three stops may seem unnecessary, the range of the plane would have really been pushed if they cut out any of those stops

Bottom line

There are dozens of repatriation flights going on right now, though this one is pretty unique. The mighty 737-200 flew eight segments over a couple of days to get people out of Morocco. It’s not every day you see a 737-200 operating a transatlantic flight.

Bonus points to them for using a former Royal Air Maroc 737-200 — I’m sure the plane was happy to visit its former home. 😉

I’m sure we’ll never know, but I’d be curious about the economics of this. I would assume there weren’t that many people who needed to be on this particular flight, and therefore this was the most cost effective option. But still, you wouldn’t assume they’d use a 737-200 that requires four segments in each direction.

Now can we see an airline use a turboprop for a transatlantic repatriation flight? That would make for an even more interesting flight path…

(Tip of the hat to Flightradar24, featured image courtesy of Jean-Philippe Richard)

  1. Not sure if you already know this, but at least the US government bills passengers for these flights (price is based on a full fare economy ticket BEFORE whatever disaster unfolded, I believe). They’re not a free government rescue service, if that answers any of the economic questions.

  2. Air Canada is send a 777 HD, surprised to see a 737 flight as well…
    Canadians are paying for this flight home.

  3. “Nolinor is the cheapest provider and only charges half a million CAD to do the round trip.”

    This begs me the question. This is tax payers money right? (Yes full fare 1500×14 is not even close) So how is this different than bailing out airlines. I don’t think the US government got fully reimbursed when they got US citizens out of China either.

    The arguments to leave the airlines (to possibly go) bankrupt is like leaving these 14 people to (possibly) die in Morocco.
    So why is this ok and airline bailout isn’t? Where do you draw the line? A next heated post on OMAAT? A question for Bernie or Trump?

  4. If just that 14 people, why don’t they just charter a flight to London first, then take a commercial flight back to Canada, that will be way cheaper. (From someone just got out of Morocco, and no I didn’t charter a plane)

  5. Peacenrespect, which virus is that again? The only virus that’s in worldwide news these days is a coronavirus called COVID-199.

  6. This is a private flight made by a commercial company in a still free world. No gouvernement money here. So all the keyboard warriors can find another bone. Thanks to everyone sharing the love for our awesome fleet and this epic flight back home.

  7. Chartering a plane to London and take commercial from there would possibly expose them even more. the best way to contain this virus is to maintain as little contact with as little people as possible.

    Regarding bailout: this is an absolutely necessary service. Bailouts could be better used to fund shorthaul train services to replace flights. Trains are better for distances up to600 kilometres and more environmentally friendly. It is time that for short flight we start investing in rail alternatives. It does not have to be highspeed rail, 160km/hour and solid wifi will enable business people to work on the go. Obviously New York to Los Angeles should still be done by plane.

  8. Air Canada posted on their Instagram that they where going to do a rescue flight to Morocco so I posted a coment asking about it taging Nolinor and One Mile at a Time, after 18 mins (impressive) I got a reply from Nolinor saying that this was just a private flight .

    Can anyone clear me up on this as I got no reply from One Mile at a Time


  9. @Eskimo
    Us Canadians aren’t allergic to the government taking tax paying dollars to offer critical services, like health care, and in this case, evacuation back to Canada.

    This is in contrast to the US, which practices ironic capitalism, where everything is capitalistic except for the rich people, who can expect to pay little in taxes, keep all the profits and ask for socialism only when their monopolies and duopolies are in danger.

  10. I would be more sympathetic to the airlines getting tax payer dollars if the airlines refunded passengers first.

    The 737-200 that Nolinor operates has all the latest navigation equipment and is well maintained for arctic duty. That baby could go anywhere in the world.

  11. I have to question the author’s knowledge of the history of transatlantic flight. The route flown by this flight (except for the hop from Morocco to Shannon) is simply the “great circle” route that thousands of planes used during the 40s and 50s to transit the Atlantic. Nothing odd or exceptional about it. (Try reading “Fate is the Hunter” by Ernest C. Gann)
    To the point “use a turbo prop”, I flew a similar route London/Rekyvik/Sydney/Halifax on a scheduled Trans Canada Airlines 4 engine Canadair North Star (A customized DC-4 with Merlin engines and a DC-6 nose)…… in 1951! I also flew on Air Canada’s inaugural flight introducing direct service between YYZ and SNN…. on a 737 MAX

  12. Canadian compassion, entrepreneurship, and collective action compared to crass American exceptionalism, superficial bravado, lack of coordination or willingness to work with other nations.

  13. @Eskimo,

    The difference is companies are legal entities, set up to generate profits for their shareholders. If there’s demand for a service, new companies will enter the sector. If demand is less than supply, companies will fail and exit.

    The other situation is citizens of the country, left somewhere where they are in peril, you suggest potentially death. Governments (and taxes) are set up and charged to look after its citizens. Clearly, you need to evaluate cost/benefit and risk- we left 52 Americans in Iran for 444 days, because there was no safe way to get them home. But it’s not a bail out- it’s what you do as a country for your citizens.

  14. @george @David

    So far what I get is government choose to do whatever they want because it is the a public service for your citizen. But is this right or wrong?
    I can change ‘rescue to bailout’ and ‘citizen to airlines’ and you get the same thing people are angry about. Isn’t this prejudice.

    Many peoples’ reasoning is airlines had the money but instead they buy back stocks. Why should I use my tax money to save airlines. The had months to save up cash.
    What about this.
    Those is Morocco knew the virus was a global, instead they went or stay in Morocco. Why should I use my tax money to save their lives. They had months to come home.

    This should apply to cruise ship passengers too?
    Doesn’t cruise ship passengers feel like airline CEOs? Living the high life, having money to travel the world, wine & dine at fine establishments. Yet we still get them home?
    Many of those sailing was in February or March, when the everyone knows the virus is global?

    As messed up as bailout is, governments are still doing the same thing to individuals. I don’t see people wanting to let them die at sea.

  15. 1. The Canadians on this flight paid for the ticket something like $1200 CAD per seat.
    2. There are still Canadians stranded in Morocco who were not able to get seats – demand was high.
    3. International commercial flights are suspended completely in Morocco making this pretty much their only option.

  16. I am forwarding to you the email sent by [email protected]
    clarifying the cost and info of the flight.

    Attention: Air Canada flight announcement

    Dear Canadians,

    You are receiving this email because you have registered with the Government of Canada’s Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA).

    The purpose of this message is to inform Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents of Canada that Air Canada is selling tickets for a flight to Montreal on AC2003, which is scheduled to depart on Saturday 21 March at 18h50, from Casablanca airport. The price of the ticket is
    1 272$+tx.

    As the number of seats is limited, we recommend that Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents of Canada consult the website Air Canada as soon as possible to reserve a place (see Air Canada instructions below).

    Canadians and Permanent Residents are permitted to board this flight to Canada.

    Health screening will be done for all departures to Canada.

    Note also that all travelers arriving in Canada must self-isolate for a period of 14 days and must have a confirmed place in Canada for that self-isolation.

    For those with confirmed reservations, please arrive at the airport well in advance. According to the Moroccan authorities, there will be no movement restrictions for foreign travellers going to the airport.

    We hope that many of you will be able to return safely to Canada on this flight.

    We continue to post flight opportunities through third counties on our social media. Continue to follow us regularly on Facebook or Twitter.

    For those remaining in Morocco, please continue to follow our ROCA messages, we will continue to update you should there be any new developments.

    Embassy of Canada to Morocco


    Customers already holding Air Canada tickets will still need to purchase a new ticket and will subsequently be able to process the credit for their original Air Canada ticket upon return to Canada via their travel agency, or an AC Contact Centre.

    To reserve your seat, you must enter the flight details and the following promotion code: KDBXXU21. The promotion code will not be made available to the general public. Only persons in possession of this
    confidential code will be able to book a seat and it should not be shared. Air Canada cannot guarantee reimbursement for travelers denied boarding.

    Due to the proximity of the departure from Canada, we will not be able to accommodate requests to supply
    oxygen equipment. However, customers may be allowed to bring their own Personal Oxygen Concentrators, if they meet certain conditions. Please contact Air Canada medical services at 1 514 369-7039 for more details.

    The food options will be limited on board and no perishable food will be served.

  17. @Ken

    Per your link,
    “Additionally, Canadian citizens can apply for up to $5,000 of COVID-19-related travel reimbursement from the government.”

    Sounds exactly like government subsidy. Now, I’m gonna give Canada itself a break since they aren’t bailing out anyone yet. But repatriating flights for USA is another story. Again I’m sure government subsidize (at least part of) these flights.

  18. This particular flight was, as per a company official, entirely privately funded and without government assistance.

  19. Getting back to the original point of the article about the B737-200 classic and the age of the plane.
    How much money did they put into this aircraft ?
    Is it RVSM certified? ADSB? Rafts? VHF radios that go out to .3 digits?
    I wonder how many waivers it flew under? A lot of pre planning for sure. Sounds like a fun trip for sure.

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