Aviation Traders
Sir Freddie Laker was best known for being the pioneer of cheap airline packages to the USA, he set up Laker Airways and the Skytrain service, the worlds first non-reservation low-cost carrier, by 1981 the "Skytrain" had flown over 2 million people off on holiday. Frederick Alfred Laker was born on the 6th August 1922 in Canterbury, Kent, when he was 5 years old his father ran off and abandoned him and his mother. Freddie’s mother did everything she could to keep the him fed, watered and a roof over his head. As a young boy his fascination of aviation was inspired by the sight of the giant Hindenberg coming from Germany on route to America, and the Handley Page, a four engine biplane, which left Croydon to go to Paris crossing his home town of Canterbury. Freddie Laker's first job in the world of aviation started on his 16th birthday in 1938 with the Short Brothers at Rochester Kent, at the outbreak of the Second World War Freddie Laker moved to General Aircraft at Rochester, but events saw him enter the Air transport Auxiliary (ATA.) ferrying aircraft, and was seconded to 41 Group Air Transport Command. On April Fool's Day 1946, he became one of the first eight employees of BEA, which he left after three months. In 1948 the Russians put a blockade around Berlin, the British Government realised that the only way of getting food and supplies to those caught inside the ring of steel was to fly it in, but the only aircraft capable of doing the job were employed by the airlines BOAC & BEA, which at the time would not take the aircraft off the lucrative commercial routes. Laker at the time owned 12 ex-RAF Halifax bombers that had been converted for civil use as the Halton. The Government approached Laker and asked to use the aircraft on what was to become the Berlin Air Lift, it was expected to last just a few weeks but went on for over a year. Freddie Laker needed to find a way to supply the aircraft through a company, he searched and found Bond Air Services, which at the was in dire financial situation with mounting debts. Six of the Haltons were sold off to gain capital whilst the other six were kept on and put on to the Berlin Air Lift, also owned by Laker at the time was a huge amount of spare parts, these were put to use in maintaining the aircraft used in the relief effort. The Handily Page Halton was originally born as the Halifax bomber it was a far from an ideal aircraft to be used on the relief flights, at the time the RAF did have Dakotas and a few Avro Yorks but nowhere near enough to cope with the vast amount of aid needed to be flown out. The bomb-bay, and the bomb-bay doors were taken off and anything applying to dropping bombs was also removed a pannier was built in place of the bomb-bay and fitted with a small loading door, for the carrying of the cargo. It was not the best of solutions and restricted what could be carried, oil drums, coal, vegetables, potatoes and a few other things were carried up to a maximum of 8 tons. It was uneconomic but the aircraft came cheap and very little insurance cover was carried. Despite this the Haltons done a sterling job over the 54 weeks they were employed they made 4700 flights. The pilots on the Berlin Air Lift were all ex-RAF, they had to fly no matter what the weather was like, the flights were made at low level with the ever present risk of the ageing aircraft malfunctioning or being shot at from the ground. Russian fighters would also buzz the aircraft. During the time of the Air Lift, Laker was buying up as much surplus RAF stock as possible this included over 200 bombers, several thousand engines that were broken up for scrap and turned into metal ingots of aluminium, which was sold off to saucepan makers. In 1951 the Russians blocked everything leaving Berlin Laker held the sole contract on cargo flight out of the city. This proved lucrative but was not without its hazards, fighters tracked the outbound flights and live fire was sent up in close proximity to the flights designated routes out of the city. During the length of the contract the aircraft flew in all kinds of weather the old bombers did not have anti icing on the wings or windscreen. Many of the pilots only had a few hundred hours of flying under their belt so the risk of crashing was high. Aviation Traders (Engineering) Limited (ATEL) a name that would become famous in time was formed at Southend Airport and carried out the servicing on the Handily Page Halton's and Halifax's used on the Berlin Air Lift. In 1953 Freddie Laker set up Channel Air Bridge, one of only two airlines to offer air transportation of vehicles, passengers and cargo (including live cattle and horses) on the same aircraft. Freddie Laker was more than just an airline owner in his time, he also took part in the designing of London's second airport at Gatwick which featured a new integrated rail link with London, giving passengers a fast direct route to and from the airport. Upon the merger of a number of airlines including Channel Air bridge to form British United Airways he became the Managing director of the largest non-government owned aircraft fleet in the UK. During this time he helped develop what would become the most commercially successfully all British passenger jet of all time the BAC111. After the demise of Laker Airways and the "Skytrain" service in 1982 after a bitter war with British Airways, Laker set about other business ventures including, Laker Airways (Bahamas) Limited which had been operating at a profit since it begin flying in 1992, a rare feet for an airline, Laker Airways Inc., which operated regular scheduled and charter flights between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale to London Gatwick, Manchester and Prestwick, Scotland. Away from aviation Freddie Laker set up Laker Information Services, an Internet Service Provider located in southern Florida. He also held honorary decorates in science from University of Manchester, the City University-London and the Cranfeld Institute of Technology and a honorary doctorate of law from Victoria University-Manchester. Sir Freddie Laker was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to British Commercial Aviation and the British economy. Freddie Laker died on Thursday 9th February 2006 in Hollywood Florida.
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