Southend Timeline

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British Air Ferries

British World can trace its history back to 25th November 1946, Silver City Airways was registered and signed an operating deal with British Aviation Services (Maintenance). One of the first routes operated by the fledgling airline was to Australia via Malta. The funding for the airline came from the mining interests held by the parent company Zinc Corporation, who held the mining rights near the Australian town of Broken Hill, New South Wales. The first aircraft to join the fleet was Avro Lancastrian Mk3 G-AHBT, with G-AHBV & AHBW joining the fleet shortly after. One of the first routes to be operated by Silver City was to Johannesburg; The Lancastrian carried a crew of five (two pilots, navigator, radio operator & steward) as well as thirteen passengers. The trip down to Iran via Malta took 16 hours including the one-hour stop over at Malta. The first leg from Langley to Malta took six hours with the final leg to Basra taking a further nine hours.

The then the operational base for Silver City was Langley but this was closed down as Heathrow developed and by 1947 all operations had moved to Blackbushe, BAS also moved on to the site, by mid 1947 Silver City added a number of ex-RAF DC3 Dakota's to it fleet, these were used for ad-hoc passenger flights and for freight operations. Later in the year the first Bristol B170 Freighter joined the fleet, this was immediately dispatched with its sisters to aid in the evacuation of Hindus from India. 1100 were flown out in just nine days.

Services were moved to Lympne, Kent and on 13th July 1948 the first Cross Channel Car Ferry service was launched, using the prototype Bristol 170 Freighter G-AGVC, the 25 minute flight only had one car on board (Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster) but over the following three months 180 vehicles were flown across the channel.

By 1949 the Car Ferry business had been increased and made in to a scheduled service. The new look operation begin on the 13thApril 1949, just two weeks into the 1949 season the service had to be increased from four a day in May to 16 a day during July-August. The busiest day of the year came on the 28th July when the four Freighters flew 23 round trips. When the season came to an end the service was slowly reduced until it was operated on a fly as you arrive basis. 2500 cars had been flown along with their owners and passengers, 50 motorcycles & 5 pedal bikes. Three of the freighters were sent to Germany to aid with the Berlin Air Lift, by the time they returned they had flown 213sorties amassing 600 flying hours.

During the 1950/53 period the Car Ferry operation went from strength to strength, however the operation was hampered by the Freighters lift capability of only two cars, the Mk32 freighter was developed that was 5ft longer could carry an extra car and up to 23 passengers, Silver City took delivery of six of the "Super Freighters" by March 1953 by the end of 1953 all 17 of the ordered Super Freighter had been delivered, with the extra capacity by the end of the 1953 season 38.000 vehicles had been flown in just 10 months. However the service was still having problems, Lympne was still a grass strip, and operations were hampered by aircraft becoming stuck in the mud, so flights had to be diverted into Southend on a regular basis. This prompted a move to West Mailing, Kent. The problem with aircraft getting stuck in the mud was solved but the site was still owned by the Ministry of Defence, they charged high rents and landing fees, this prompted Silver City to design and build their own Car Ferry airport.

The airport was built North-east of Lydd, Kent the runways were 3600ft & 3300ft, a Terminal, Customs & Immigration services were set up. The design brief was started in October 1953 and with construction beginning in December 1953, the airport was the first civilian built airfield after the Second World War. It became operational in May 1954 and was named "Ferry field". The operations out of West Mailing and Lympne were would down with the last Car Ferry flight out of Lympne 3rd October 1954. The new Ferryfield airport was expanded in 1957 to handle more flights.

During April 1962 the Handly Page Hermes is added to the fleet on a pure passenger role. Then in 1964 the owners of the airlines Zinc Corporation pass ownership of Silver City over to British Aviation Services (owned by P & O Shipping Group). Air Kruse are merged into the company but are kept as a separate airline for a number of years but it is eventually merged in to Silver City. Over the following few years Lancashire Aircraft Corporation, Manx Airlines & Dragon Airways were all bought and merged with Silver City but by 1973 Silver City had ceased all flying activities, whilst BAS carry on trading.

Air Charter set up by Sir Freddie Laker operating a selection of Handly Page Halton & Halifax aircraft also set up was the legendary name of Aviation Traders, during 1951 Air Charter dispose of it fleet and take over Surry Flying Services, taking on their fleet of a single Avro York. Then later in the same year they take over Blackbushe based Fairflight who had an Avro Tudor. A short time later both Air Charter & Channel Air Bridge are transferred to British United Airways a new airline formed by the merger of Airwork & Hunting Clan, the handling of which was over seen by Air Holdings Group.

During November 1961 BAS agree a take over bid from Air Holdings group (Channel Air Bridge owners) the new company consisting of the former Silver City & British Air Service became British United Air Ferries on the 1st January 1963. A new operating base was set up at Southend whilst the operations at Ferryfield (Lydd) were carried on. The continuation of the successful Car Ferry operation was continued, and was expanded upon with a new Southend-Liege route set up for the 1963 season, 1963 also saw the introduction of the Aviation Traders ATL98 Carvair.

With the boom in cheap cross channel roll-on-roll-off ferries the age of the Car Ferry by air started to die out in 1964 and by February 1967 BU AF had suspended all its Deep Penetration flights. The 31st  March 1967 saw the end of a 13 Year Car Ferry era when the last scheduled Bristol 170 Freighter arrived at Southend from Calais, the type was only over seen at Southend on occasional ad-hoc/cargo duty's and for maintenance after that.

BUAF dropped the "United" tag from its name and became British Air Ferries on 1st October 1967 at the same time it separated from the Air Holdings group (but still retained ownership), the airline quickly set about a flexing its new found powers by cutting 25% of its staff and moving out its offices in London's Victoria and moved into its own office block at Southend Airport (Viscount House).

During March 1970 BAF lease their first Viscount a type that was to become synonymous with the airline, from Aer Lingus, it was operated on Southend-Ostend & Southend-Le Touquet routes until being returned to its owners in October 1971, during its time with BAF it was joined by two Hawker Siddeley HS748's the first joining the fleet in November 1970 the Second April 1971 both were returned to Court Line by November 1971. Air Holdings the owners of BAF now passed ownership of the airline to T D Keegan.

The Canadian built CL44 Guppy G-AZIN joined BAF on 25th March 1972 with G-ATZH joining in May both however were returned to Trans Meridian by July 1972.

During 1973 BAF leased a Viscount from Midlands based Alidair, BAF recorded some of the best on-time flights with 87% departing/arriving on time and with 90% within 15 minutes of allotted time. The same year BAF opened up their own maintenance and overhaul company in the hangers vacated by Channel Airways, at the same time Hawke Aircraft Parts & Maintenance Repair was formed. Later in the year BAF branched off into the world of Formula Ford racing cars producing the BAF Special. On a much slower scale they also went into designing and building luxury motor-homes converted from coaches, these were capable of seating 10 people in a rear section whilst the forward part could be fitted out with a kitchen, sleeping, office, conference facilities, VIP Transport or a mobile hospital eventually one the one prototype was built.

The first Handley Page HPR7 Herald joined BAF in January 1975, three had been bought from Eastern Provincial Airways in Canada, the second machine arrived 17th April 1975, however the third suffered a landing accident before it could be delivered, a team of engineers from BAF went out to inspect the aircraft and after a quick fix flew it to Southend arriving in July 1975, it was then pushed into the BAF hanger and was not seen again until after a major overhaul rolling out in December 1975.

BAF were still operating four Carvairs in the Car Ferry role during 1976, as the demand had dropped to an all time low they took three off the service and put the aircraft into an all fright role. The three Heralds had all been leased out to other operators so replacements needed to be sourced, the Herald although not a huge success was a popular reliable airliner and with only 48 being built second hand machines were hard to come-by.   Transbrasil the South American based airlines had three that were available so all three were bought and flown to Southend the first arriving in June 1976 going into service on 18th July 1976, with the other two arriving by the end of August 1976. One of the new additions was the Pre-production 100 G-APWA, this was a fair bit shorter that the production machines. Because of this Whiskey-Alpha was expected to be grounded and reduced to spares but it was over hauled and put back into the air and flew for many years before eventually retiring on the 6lh April 1982.

It was now that BAF re-launched its Southend-Calais rote that it had abandoned in 1972 it used a DH Dove on the route but it proved little susses and was abandoned a short while later. Other routes to be launched included Lillie, Dusseldorf, Antwerp,

Rotterdam, Hanover & Luxembourg, finding aircraft to fill the slots was difficult so two more Heralds were obtained from East Midlands based British Midland.

The 1st January 1977 saw the last BAF Carvair Car Ferry flight, then in June BAF bought the entire fleet of Heralds operated by the Royal Malaysian Air Force, these Heralds were the Mk400 with strengthened floors of the eight bought the first arrived on 15th August 1977 with another seven arriving over the following months, a ninth machine had suffered a landing accident and was deemed uneconomic to repair for the long flight back to the UK so it was reduced to spares in Kuala Lumpur, the first was put back to civilian passenger flying on 6th October 1977 by the time all were back to civilian duties BAF had 15 heralds on its books.

During 1978 much speculation was made about the future of BAF's scheduled operations, and then on 1st January 1979 BAF announced it was to cease all its scheduled operations, British Island Airways took over the routes, whilst BAF concentrated on the leasing & charter market.

BAF bought the entire stock of stored ex-British Airways Viscounts, these had been held in open store at Cardiff since the previous spring but careful maintenance, sealing of components and regular engine runs had been undertaken. The first of these Viscounts arrived on 16th January 1981, it was rolled out of BAF hanger resplendent in the White, with yellow & blue stripes on the 4th February 1981 24 years to the day of its first flight. Also present at the rollout ceremony was a BAE125 this was for use as an executive/VIP transport, it was also capable of a two-hour refit to become an air ambulance.
On the 6th February 1982 Viscount G-AOHL flew into Southend for the last time, it became the static cabin trainer.

More ex-BA Viscounts were bought these were delivered as they were taken out of service with the flag carrier. By the end of 1981 the reaming seven Viscounts in BA service were withdrawn and bought by BAF. During 1981 BAF bought a Viscount 810 (long rage variant) Southend Council also gave the go-a-head for the demolition of a number of cottages and shed at the end of runway 24. These properties had restricted the cargo loads that could be carried by aircraft operating out of the airport. For safety traffic lights were introduced either side of the runway, these were operated by the town and would stop traffic if a large/heavy aircraft was to take off this would prevent a Double Decker bus becoming an open-top route 67 bus! BAF announced that it intended to buy ten British Aerospace 146 jets the order was never placed, but British Aerospace did however select BAF to do the route proving flight and the forth 146 built was painted in BAF colours and registered G-OBAF. It was demonstrated at that years Farnborough Airshow before under going a 21-day flight test program completing 175 flying hours and visiting Düsseldorf, Munich, Beauvais & Toulouse.

March 1983 saw BAF sell off its flying arm along with five Viscounts and two Heralds to Jadepoint, however the deal did not include BAF Engineering or the BAF name. BAF continued its leasing side of the business, the owners of BAF The Keegan Group suddenly ceased trading allowing Jadepoint to buy up the rest of BAF, and this also enabled them to take over all the contacts held by BAF at the time as well as the Travel outlets, Viscount Holidays & Viscount Travel. One of Jadepoint's first tasks after buying BAF was the setting up of Jersey Air Ferries, they were issued with two Viscounts and began flying on 27th April 1983, the service operating between Southend- Le Touquet however by October 1983 it was decided to quietly drop the airline with the two Viscounts returning to BAF. Jadepoint bought Guernsey Airlines formed as a subsidiary of Aldair after B A dropped 26 routes mostly serving the Channel Islands. Aldair had changed its name to Intercity Airlines but was experiencing major financial difficulty's the failing airline finally succumbed to the receivers on 1st August 1983.

Both the “independent” Guernsey Airways and BAF experienced a profitable 1984.

The weekend covering 20th –21st July 1985 the two airlines amassed 178 flights. The same year BAF had to get more Viscounts to help fill a its flying commitments it now became the worlds largest Viscount operator. Despite being one of the older airliner types still in regular service the Viscount proved to be popular with anyone who flew on them, it was praised by all those who worked with it, the passengers were treated to a roomy cabin with large oval windows which gave much more light and view that the tiny port-holes in today's modern jet-liners. BAF expanded it Viscount fleet further in August 1985 when it acquired four from Euroair for £2.5million, the first of these were given the new "BRITISH" titles. Only two of these Viscounts were to join the fleet the other two were sold to Spain including spares and maintenance for £3million!

Herald Whiskey-Alpha (G-APWA) had been retired from service in 1982 (the first production aircraft) was languishing in the long grass on the North side of the airport, the airframe had been in use as a source of spares, and on the 26th October 1992 it was loaded on to a low-loader and transported to a new home at Woodley, Berkshire.

The Leaping Lion

On the 6th April 1993 British Air Ferries an airline who had seen the demise of many other airlines both big & small ceased to be, British World Airlines had replaced it. The new name was designed to reflect the fact that it could supply aircraft anywhere at any time & the fact it had not operated the car ferry for twenty years.

Tragedy stuck BWA on the night of Friday 25th February 1994 when one of their Viscounts crashed during a blizzard, three of the four Darts had iced up, the crew of the Edinburgh-Coventry mail flight tried to keep the aircraft airborne on its only remaining engine long enough to clear a built up area, they managed to clear the houses before crashing into woodland along side Uttoxeter racecourse, killing the pilot with the co-pilot surviving.

The Year 1996 saw BWA celebrate its 50th anniversary. March 1996 saw the arrival of the first Avions De Transport Regional 210 ATR72 G-OILA the second machine arrived in May G-OILB. With the arrival of the two aircraft the Viscounts that had preformed a shell oil flights out of Aberdeen were sent back to Southend for retirement, the vintage airliner had proved immensely popular with the oil field workers carrying l.5 million people with an outstanding 98% reliability.

With the continuing winding down of the Viscount operations BWA launched a Viscount tour of the UK, with Viscount G-APEY the last passenger certified Viscount in the UK, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Manchester & various other airports visited, here were pleasure flights from each of the airports visited. The 29th July 1996 saw the 46th Anniversary Flight of the Vickers ~ Viscount, to mark the occasion Echo-Yankee preformed a special flight from Southend, the flight saw low level passes made over RAF Northolt, the former race track now museum at Brooklands and finally over Southend before landing. After the engines were shut down everyone began to clap and cheer. It was thought that the era of the Viscount flying in the UK had now ended but this was not to be.

During 1997 one last batch of Viscounts flights were launched these were the last passenger carrying Viscount flights in the UK British World Airlines marked the end of an era not just for the airline but a UK aviation era when it retired it last Viscount, G-AOHM flew in to Southend on a grey murky 8th December 1998 after a low level fly past & break the last UK Viscount landing accorded at 10:24am, and the following day it departed with G-OPFI to end its days in South Africa. The same year saw BWA floated on the stock market.

On 14th December 2001 British World Airlines ceased all flying and called in the receivers, the losses sustained by the airline in the general down turn in air travel and the September 11th attacks were both contributory factors for the down fall of the airline.

 

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