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). The funding for Silver City came from the mining interests held by the parent company Zinc Corporation, who held 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 & G-AHBW joining the fleet shortly after. The Lancastrian carried a crew of five, (two pilots, a navigator, a radio operator and a steward), as well as thirteen passengers. The first commercial flight by Silver city was to Sydney via Johannesburg. The trip down to Iran, via Malta, took 16 hours including the one-hour stop over at Malta. The first leg of the journey from Langley to Malta took 6 hours with the final leg to Basra taking a further 9 hours. The then operating base for Silver city was Langley but this was closed down as Heathrow developed and, by 1947, all operations had moved to Blackbushe. British Aviation Services (BAS) also moved to the site at Blackbushe. By mid-1947 Silver City added a number of ex R.A.F. DC3 Dakota’s to its 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. 1,100 people were flown out in just nine days! Services were then moved to Lympne in Kent and, on 13th July 1948,the first Cross Channel Car Ferry service was launched using the prototype Bristol B170 Freighter G-AGVC. The 25 minute flight only had one car on board, (an Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster), but over the following three months more than 180 vehicles were flown across the Channel. By 1949 the Car Ferry business had been increased and became a scheduled service. The new look operation began on 13th April 1949, and just two weeks into the 1949 season the service had to be increased from four flights a day, in May, to sixteen flights a day during July-August. The busiest day of the year was 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. 2,500 cars had been flown along with their owners & passengers, 50 motorcycles, and 5 pedal bikes. Three of the Freighters were sent to Germany to aid with the Berlin Air Lift, and by the time they returned they had flown 213 sorties amassing 600 flying hours. The Car Ferry operation went from strength to strength during the period 1950/1953; however, the operation was hampered by the Freighters’ lift capacity of only two cars per flight. This led to the development of the Mk32 freighter which was 5ft longer, and could carry an extra car and up to a maximum of 23 passengers. Silver City took delivery of six of the “Super Freighters” by March 1953, and by the end of 1953 all seventeen of the ordered Super Freighters had been delivered. With the extra capacity, by the end of the 1953 season, 38,000 vehicles had been flown in just 10 months! The service however was still having problems; Lympne was still a grass strip, and operations were hampered by aircraft becoming stuck in the mud, so flights were diverted to Southend on a regular basis. This prompted a move to West Malling in Kent. The problem with aircraft getting stuck in the mud was resolved, but the site was still owned by the Ministry of Defence who 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 in Kent, the runways were 3,600ft & 3,300ft in length, and a Terminal, Customs, and 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 constructed after the Second World War. It became operational in May 1954 and was named “Ferryfield”. The operations out of West Malling and Lympne were wound down, with the last Car Ferry flight out of Lympne on 3rd October 1954. The new Ferryfield airport was expanded in 1957 to handle more flights. During April 1962the Zinc Corporation passed ownership of Silver City over to British Aviation Services (owned by P & O Shipping Group). Air Kruse was merged in to the company but was kept as a separate airline for a number of years until it was eventually merged in to Silver City. Over the next 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 continued trading. Air Charter, which was formed in 1947, was taken over in 1951 by Sir Freddie Laker, (who founded Aviation Traders in October 1947), operating a selection of Handley Page Halton and Halifax aircraft. Along with Air Charter Freddie also acquired Surrey Flying Services including its assets of Avro York aircraft. Later in the same year Air Charter purchased Blackbushe based Fairflight and acquired their Avro Tudor. A short time later both Air Charter and Channel Air Bridge, (sister company to Air charter), were transferred to British United Airways, a new airline formed by the merger of Airwork Services and Hunting-Clan Air Transport, the handling of which was overseen by Air holdings Group. During November 1961 BAS agreed a take-over bid from Air Holdings Group; the new company consisting of the former Silver city and British Air Service became British United Air Ferries (BUAF) on 1st January 1963. A new operating base was set up at Southend Airport whilst the operations at Ferryfield (Lydd) continued. The continuation of the successful Car Ferry operation was expanded upon with a new Southend-Liege route set up for the 1963 season. 1963 also saw the introduction of the, now iconic, Aviation Traders ATL98 Carvair! With the boom in cheap cross Channel roll-on-roll-off ferries the age of the Car Ferry by air began to diminish in 1964 and, by February 1967, BUAF had suspended all its Deep Penetration flights. March 31st 1967 saw the end of a thirteen year Carry Ferry era when the last scheduled Bristol 170 Freighter arrived at Southend from Calais; the type was only ever seen at Southend on occasional ad-hoc/cargo duties and for maintenance after that. BUAF dropped the “United” tag from its name and became British Air Ferries (BAF) on 1st October 1967. At the same time it separated from the Air Holdings Group although they still retained ownership. The Airline quickly set about flexing its new found powers by cutting 25% if its staff, and relocating its offices from London’s Victoria to its own office block (Viscount House) at Southend Airport. During March 1970 BAF leased from Aer Lingus its first Viscount aircraft, a type that was to become synonymous with the airline. It was operated on routes Southend-Ostend & Southend-Le Touquet until being returned to its owners in October 1971. During its time with BAF the Viscount was joined by two Hawker Siddley HS748’s, the first joining the fleet in November 1970 and the second in April 1971. Both were returned to their owner, Court Line, by November 1971. Air Holdings Group passed ownership of BAF to T.D. Keegan in 1971. Canadian built CL44 Guppy G-AZIN joined BAF on 25th March 1972 with G-ATZH joining in May; however both aircraft 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 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. 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 only one prototype was ever built.
The first Handley Page HP97 Herald joined BAF in January 1975. Three had been bought from Eastern Provincial Airways in Canada; the second aircraft arrived 17th April 1975, however the third suffered a landing accident before it could be delivered. A team of BAF engineers 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 but, as the demand for these flights had dropped to an all- time low, three aircraft were taken off the service and reassigned to an all freight role. The three Herald aircraft 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 having been built, second hand machines were hard to come by. The South American based airline Transbrasil had three that were available,so all three were bought and flown to Southend with the first one arriving in June 1976 and going into service on 18th July 1976, and the other two arriving by the end of August 1976. One of these new additions was the pre-production 100 G-APWA; this was a fair bit shorter than the production machines and it was feared that Whiskey-Alpha would be grounded and reduced to spares, but it was overhauled and put back into the air and flew for many years before eventually retiring on 6th April 1982. It was now that BAF re-launched its Southend-Calais route that it had ceased in 1972. It used a DH Dove on the route but it had little success and was abandoned a short while later. Other routes to be launched included Lillie, Dusseldorf, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hanover and Luxembourg. Finding aircraft to fill the slots was difficult so two more Heralds were obtained from British Midland based at East Midlands. January 1st 1977 saw the last BAF Carvair Car Ferry flight, and in June BAF bought the entire fleet of Heralds operated by the Royal Malaysian Air Force; these aircraft were the Mk400 with strengthened floors. Of the eight purchased the first arrived on 15th August 1977 with the other 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 machine was put back to civilian passenger service on 6th October 1977, and 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 Viscount aircraft; 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’s hanger resplendent in the white with yellow & blue stripes on 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 capable of a two-hour refit to become an air ambulance. On 6th February 1982 Viscount G-AOHL flew into Southend for the last time where it became the static cabin trainer. More ex BA Viscounts were bought, and these were delivered as they were taken out of service with the flag carrier. By the end of 1981 the remaining seven Viscounts in BA service were withdrawn and bought by BAF. During 1981 BAF bought a Viscount 810 (long range variant), and Southend Council also gave the go- ahead for the demolition of a number of cottages, and a shed, at the end of runway 24. The cottages 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 but the order was never placed. However, British Aerospace selected BAF to do the route-proving flight and the fourth 146 built was painted in BAF colours and registered as G-OBAF. It was demonstrated at that years’ Farnborough Airshow before undergoing a 21 day flight test program, completing 175 flying hours and visiting Dusseldorf, 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 but the owners of BAF, (The Keegan Group), suddenly ceased trading allowing Jadepoint to buy up the rest of BAF. This also enabled them to take over all the contracts 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 with the service operating 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 BA dropped 26 routes mostly serving the Channel Islands. Aldair had changed its name to Intercity Airlines but was experiencing major financial difficulties. The failing airline finally succumbed to the Receivers on 1st August 1983. Both the “independent” Guernsey Airlines and BAF experienced a profitable 1984. The weekend of 20th 21st July 1985 saw the two airlines amass 178 flights. The same year BAF had to get more Viscounts to help fulfil its flying commitments. It had now become the world’s 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 and 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 than the tiny port-holes in the more modern jet-liners. BAF expanded its Viscount fleet further in August 1985 when it acquired four from Euroair for £2.5m. The first of these were given the new “BRITISH” titles. Only two of these Viscounts were to join the fleet, the other two including spares & maintenance were sold to Spain for £3m! Herald Whiskey-Alpha (G-APWA), the first production aircraft, had been retired from service in 1982 and was languishing in the long grass on the North side of the airport. The airframe had been used as a source for spares and, on 26th October 1992, it was loaded on to a low-loader and transported to a new home at Woodley in Berkshire. The Leaping Lion On 6th April 1993 British Air Ferries, an airline that had seen the demise of many other airlines both big and small, ceased to be: British World Airlines (BWA) had replaced it. The new name was designed to reflect the fact that (a) it could supply aircraft anywhere at any time, and (b) it had not operated the car ferry for twenty years. Tragedy struck BWA on the night of Friday 25th February 1994 when one of their Viscounts crashed during a blizzard. Three of the four Dart engines 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 alongside Uttoxeter Racecourse, killing the pilot with the co-pilot surviving. 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 G-OILB arrived in May. With the arrival of the two aircraft the Viscounts that had performed 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 1.5m people with an outstanding 98% reliability. With the continued 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 and various other airports were visited and at each one pleasure flights were on offer. July 29th 1996 saw the 46th Anniversary Flight of the Vickers Viscount. To mark the occasion Echo-Yankee performed a special flight from Southend; the flight saw low level passes performed over RAF Northolt, the former race track now museum at Brooklands and, finally, over Southend before landing. Once the engines were shut down everyone clapped and cheered; it was thought that the era of the Viscount flying in the UK had ended but it was not the case. During 1997 one last batch of Viscount flights were launched; these were the last passenger carrying Viscount flights in the UK. BWA marked the end of an era, not just for the airline but a UK aviation era, when it retired its last Viscount; G-AOHM flew in to Southend on a grey murky 8th December 1998, after a low level flypast, & became the last UK Viscount landing recorded at 10:24am. The following day it departed, along 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; the general down turn in air travel, and the September 11th attacks in the USA were both contributory factors for the downfall of the airline.
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