British Overseas Airways Corporation
British Overseas Airways Corporation (logo).svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
BA BOA SPEEDBIRD
Founded24 November 1939; 82 years ago (1939-11-24)
(amalgamation of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd)
Commenced operations1 April 1940; 82 years ago (1940-04-01)
Ceased operations31 March 1974; 48 years ago (1974-03-31)
(merged with British European Airways to form British Airways)
HubsLondon–Heathrow
Fleet size≈200 (at its peak)
Destinations200
Parent companyGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersSpeedbird House, Heathrow Airport, Hillingdon, England
Key peopleWhitney Straight
Matthew Slattery
Basil Smallpeice
Giles Guthrie
BOAC coat of arms
BOAC coat of arms

British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was the British state-owned airline created in 1939 by the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. It continued operating overseas services throughout World War II. After the passing of the Civil Aviation Act 1946, European and South American services passed to two further state-owned airlines, British European Airways (BEA) and British South American Airways (BSAA). BOAC absorbed BSAA in 1949, but BEA continued to operate British domestic and European routes for the next quarter century. A 1971 Act of Parliament merged BOAC and BEA, effective 31 March 1974, forming today's British Airways.[1] For most of its history its main rival was Pan Am.

History

War years

On 24 November 1939, BOAC was created by Act of Parliament to become the British state airline, formed from the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. The companies had been operating together since war was declared on 3 September 1939, when their operations were evacuated from the London area to Bristol. On 1 April 1940, BOAC started operations as a single company. Following the Fall of France (22 June 1940), BOAC aircraft kept wartime Britain connected with its colonies and the allied world, often under enemy fire, and initially with desperate shortages of long-range aircraft. During the war, the airline was sometimes loosely referred to as 'British Airways', and aircraft and equipment were marked with combinations of that title and/or the Speedbird symbol and/or the Union Flag.[1]

A BOAC Boeing 314 Clipper lands on Lagos Lagoon, 1943
A BOAC Boeing 314 Clipper lands on Lagos Lagoon, 1943

BOAC inherited Imperial Airways' flying boat services to British colonies in Africa and Asia, but with the wartime loss of the route over Italy and France to Cairo these were replaced by the expatriate 'Horseshoe Route', with Cairo as a hub, and Sydney and Durban as end destinations. Linking Britain to the Horseshoe Route taxed the resources of BOAC. Although Spain denied access, Portugal welcomed BOAC's civilian aircraft at Lisbon. However, the Mediterranean route from Lisbon or Gibraltar to Egypt via Malta risked enemy attack, so the long West Africa route had to be employed (over-water via Lisbon, Bathurst, Freetown, Lagos), then by landplane to Khartoum on the Horseshoe Route. The Empire routes had contained landplane sectors, but the Armstrong Whitworth Ensign and de Havilland Albatross ordered to replace the Handley Page HP.42 'Heracles' biplanes had proved disappointing, leaving the Short Empire flying boats as the backbone of the wartime fleet. (Only a handful of these had long range tanks but many were eventually upgraded with larger tankage and operated at overload weights.)

The Empire flying-boats were at their limit on the 1,900-mile Lisbon-Bathurst sector. Refuelling at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands was permitted by Spain for some Empire flying-boat flights in 1940 and 1941. In 1941 longer range Consolidated Catalinas, Boeing 314As (and later converted Short Sunderlands) were introduced to guarantee non-stop Lisbon to Bathurst sectors (thus eliminating the need to refuel at Las Palmas). BOAC's flying-boat base for Britain was shifted from Southampton to Poole, Dorset, but many flights used Foynes in Éire (Ireland), reached by shuttle flight from Whitchurch. Use of Foynes reduced the chance of enemy interception or friendly fire incidents over the English Channel. BOAC had large bases at Durban, Asmara, Alexandria and a pilots' school at Soroti, Uganda.[citation needed]

Experimental flights had been made across the North Atlantic pre-war by Imperial Airways Empire flying-boats with improved fuel capacity, some using in flight refuelling, culminating in a series of mail/courier flights made by BOAC's Clare and Clyde to La Guardia in camouflage during the Battle of Britain. These were BOAC's first New York services. In 1941, BOAC was tasked with operating a 'Return Ferry Service' from Prestwick to Montreal to reposition ferry pilots who had flown American-built bombers from Canada, and they were provided with RAF Consolidated Liberators with a very basic passenger conversion. This was the first sustained North Atlantic landplane service. By September 1944 BOAC had made 1,000 transatlantic crossings.[2]

In late 1942, the new hard-surface airport at Lisbon permitted the use of civil registered Liberators to North and West Africa and Egypt. Arguably, BOAC's most famous wartime route was the 'Ball-bearing Run' from Leuchars to Stockholm (Bromma) in neutral Sweden. Initially flown with Lockheed 14s and Lockheed Hudson transports, the unsuitable Armstrong Whitworth Whitley "civilianised" bombers were also used between 9 August and 24 October 1942 ("Civilianised" meant that all the armaments and unnecessary guns and turrets had been removed, a legal requirement for operating a commercial civilian service to a neutral country). The much faster civilian registered de Havilland Mosquitoes were introduced by BOAC in 1943. The significance of the ball-bearings is debatable, but these night flights were an important diplomatic gesture of support for neutral Sweden which had two DC-3s shot down on its own service to Britain. Other types used to Sweden included Lockheed Lodestars, Consolidated Liberators, and the sole Curtiss CW-20 (C-46 prototype) which BOAC had purchased; these types had more payload, and some had the range to avoid the German-controlled Skagerrak direct route.[citation needed]

Between 1939 and 1945 6,000 passengers were transported by BOAC between Stockholm and Great Britain.[3]

Early post-war operations

BOAC Avro York freighter operating a scheduled service at Heathrow in 1953
BOAC Avro York freighter operating a scheduled service at Heathrow in 1953
BOAC Short Solent 3 G-AHIN Southampton served the airline's route from the UK along the Nile to Johannesburg between 1948 and 1950
BOAC Short Solent 3 G-AHIN Southampton served the airline's route from the UK along the Nile to Johannesburg between 1948 and 1950
BOAC DC-4M-4 Argonaut G-ALHS "Astra" at London Airport (Heathrow) in September 1954
BOAC DC-4M-4 Argonaut G-ALHS "Astra" at London Airport (Heathrow) in September 1954
The sole C-69C after civilianisation for BOAC as a Lockheed 049E at Heathrow Airport in 1954
The sole C-69C after civilianisation for BOAC as a Lockheed 049E at Heathrow Airport in 1954

At the end of the war, BOAC's fleet consisted of Lockheed Lodestars, lend-lease Douglas DC-3s, Liberators, converted Sunderlands, and the first Avro Lancastrians, Avro Yorks, and Handley Page Haltons. The Short Empire, Short S.26 and Boeing 314A flying boats, plus the AW Ensigns, were due to be withdrawn. The corporation's aircraft, bases and personnel were scattered around the world, and it took a decade to reorganise it into an efficient unit at Heathrow. In 1943, the Brabazon Committee had laid down a set of civil aircraft transport types for the British aircraft industry to produce, but these were to be several years in coming, and particularly in the case of the tailwheel Avro Tudor, not what BOAC wanted.

Since 1941, the advanced pressurised Lockheed Constellation had been under development, and in 1946 BOAC was permitted to use dollars to purchase an initial fleet of five for the prestigious North Atlantic route (there were no equivalent British types available). Throughout the whole of BOAC's existence, the argument over buying American or (often delayed) British products continued, and Parliament, the press, British manufacturers and the unions accused BOAC management of only wanting American aircraft. Whilst the major world airlines abandoned flying-boats at the end of WWII, BOAC continued with theirs until 1950, and even introduced the new Short Solent on the leisurely Nile route to South Africa. In 1948, the unpressurised Yorks were still operating passenger services as far afield as Nairobi (Kenya), Accra (Gold Coast, later Ghana), Delhi and Calcutta (India), and the type continued to operate freight schedules until late 1957.[4]

After its first six Lockheed 049 Constellations, BOAC had to use some ingenuity to increase its Constellation fleet. In 1947, Aerlínte Éireann in Ireland bought five new Lockheed 749 Constellations, and prepared to launch a transatlantic service with assistance and crew-training from Captains O. P. Jones and J. C. Kelly-Rogers of BOAC. The project was abandoned in February 1948, and BOAC were able to buy the almost new 749s without dollar expenditure four months later. This enabled BOAC to serve Australia with Constellations from 1949. A total of 25 Constellations passed through the BOAC fleet, including 12 749As obtained from Capital Airlines in the mid-1950s, with BOAC's older 049s in part exchange.

BOAC was also permitted to spend dollars on six new Boeing 377 Stratocruisers for its key transatlantic routes from October 1949, offering a double-deck non-stop eastbound service from New York City to London Airport (later Heathrow). However, because of the prevailing westerly winds, the westbound flights needed re-fuelling at Shannon and Gander before reaching New York. Another four Stratocruisers were taken over from a frustrated SAS order and seven were bought secondhand in the mid-1950s. The Handley Page Hermes and Canadair DC-4M Argonaut joined the BOAC fleet between 1949 and 1950, replacing the last of the non-pressurised types on passenger services. When service entry of the Bristol Britannia was delayed in late 1956, BOAC was permitted to purchase ten new Douglas DC-7Cs. These long-range aircraft enabled BOAC to operate non-stop westbound flights from London and Manchester to New York and other US East Coast destinations,[5] in competition with DC-7Cs of Pan Am and Lockheed Super Constellations of Trans World Airlines (TWA). This was the first purchase of aircraft direct from the Douglas Aircraft Company in BOAC's history.[citation needed]

Introduction of jets

BOAC Comet 1 at Heathrow in 1953
BOAC Comet 1 at Heathrow in 1953
BOAC Comet 4 in 1963
BOAC Comet 4 in 1963

In May 1952 BOAC was the first airline to introduce a passenger jet into airline service. This was the de Havilland Comet which flew via Nairobi to Johannesburg and via the Far East to Tokyo. All Comet 1 aircraft were grounded in April 1954 after four Comets crashed, the second last being a BOAC aircraft at altitude. Examination of the wreckage recovered from the Mediterranean sea-bed and observation of a sample fuselage in a pressurisation test-tank at Farnborough revealed that the repeated pressurisation / depressurisation cycles of airline operation could cause fatigue cracks in the thin aluminium alloy skin of the Comet leading to the skins ripping away explosively at altitude and disintegration of the aircraft.

Later jet airliners including the revised Comet 4 were designed to be fail-safe: in the event of, for example, a skin-failure due to cracking the damage would be localised and not catastrophic. In October 1958 BOAC operated the first transatlantic jet service with the larger and longer-range Comet 4. In the 1950s turbine powered airliners were developing rapidly, and the Comet and the seriously delayed Bristol Britannia were soon rendered obsolescent by the flight of the swept-wing Boeing 367–80 (707 prototype) in 1954.[citation needed]

Revenue passenger-kilometres, scheduled flights only, in millions
Year Traffic
1947 456
1950 845
1955 1,610
1960 3,765
1965 7,029
1969 9,682
1971 11,444
Source: ICAO Digest of Statistics for 1947–55, IATA World Air Transport Statistics 1960–1971

In 1953 Vickers had started building the swept wing VC-7/V-1000 with Rolls-Royce Conway turbofan engines, but BOAC short-sightedly decided the Britannia and Comet 4 would be adequate for its purposes, and when the military version of the V-1000 was cancelled in 1955 the 75% complete prototype was scrapped. In October 1956 BOAC ordered 15 Boeing 707s with Conway engines (briefly the most economical commercial engine option). They entered service in 1960. (The British airworthiness authorities insisted on tail-fin modifications which Boeing made available to all 707 users.) Sir Giles Guthrie,[6] who took charge of BOAC in 1964, preferred Boeing aircraft for economic reasons, and indeed BOAC began turning a profit in the late 1960s. After a row in Parliament the government instructed BOAC to purchase 17 Vickers VC10 aircraft from a 30-aircraft order which Guthrie had cancelled.[7] The Standard VC10 had higher operating costs than the 707, largely due to BOAC's requirement at the design stage for the aircraft to have excellent hot and high performance for Commonwealth (African/Asian) routes, but the larger Super VC10 was a success with American passengers on the North Atlantic and was profitable.

A BOAC Boeing 747-100 landing at Heathrow Airport in September 1972
A BOAC Boeing 747-100 landing at Heathrow Airport in September 1972

The next major order of Boeing aircraft was for 11 Boeing 747-100s. On 22 April 1970 BOAC received its first 747, but the aircraft did not enter commercial service until 14 April 1971 due to BOAC's inability to settle crewing and pay rates with the British Air Line Pilots' Association. BOAC's successor British Airways later became the largest Boeing customer outside North America.

Merger with BEA

The first attempt at a merger of BOAC with BEA arose in 1953 out of inconclusive attempts between the two airlines to negotiate air rights through the British colony of Cyprus. The chairman of BOAC, Miles Thomas, was in favour of the idea as a potential solution to a disagreement between the two airlines as to which should serve the increasingly important oil regions of the Middle East, and he had backing for his proposal from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, Rab Butler. However, opposition from the Treasury blocked the idea, and an agreement was reached instead to allow BEA to serve Ankara in Turkey, and in return to leave all routes east and south of Cyprus to BOAC. Paradoxically, through its effective control of Cyprus Airways, BEA was able to continue to serve destinations ceded to BOAC, including Beirut and Cairo by using Cyprus Airways as its proxy.[8]

However, it was only following the recommendations of the 1969 Edwards Report that a new British Airways Board, combining BEA and BOAC, was constituted on 1 April 1972.[9] This event coincided with the establishment of the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK's new, unified regulator for the air transport industry.[10]

BOAC would have become one of the first operators of the Concorde, had it not merged to become British Airways. BA's Concordes carried registrations of G-BOAA to G-BOAG. The first Concorde delivered to British Airways was registered G-BOAC.

Other BOAC companies

BOAC Associated Companies

BOAC held shareholdings in a number of other airlines operating in several parts of the British Commonwealth through a subsidiary, BOAC Associated Companies. These included Aden Airways, Bahamas Airways, Fiji Airways,[11] Ghana Airways, Gulf Aviation and Nigeria Airways. In the late 1950s BOAC Associated Companies was declared to have holdings in eighteen companies.

BOAC-Cunard Ltd

BOAC-Cunard lettering on a Super VC10
BOAC-Cunard lettering on a Super VC10

In 1962, BOAC and Cunard formed BOAC-Cunard Ltd to operate scheduled services to North America, the Caribbean and South America. BOAC provided 70% of the new company's capital and eight Boeing 707s. The independent Cunard Eagle Airways, of which Cunard held a 60% shareholding, provided two more 707s.

BOAC-Cunard leased any spare capacity to BOAC which could use it to supplement the main BOAC fleet at peak demand, and in a reciprocal arrangement BOAC would provide capacity to BOAC-Cunard on some operations when it had a shortfall.

The effect of this arrangement was to remove competition on western routes.[12] The operation was dissolved in 1966.

Destinations

This article contains dynamic lists that may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

The following is an incomplete list of destinations historically served by BOAC:[13][14][15]

Fleet

During the time of the airline's existence, BOAC operated these aircraft:

BOAC Boeing Stratocruiser G-AKGJ "RMA Cambria" at Manchester in June 1954 en route to New York
BOAC Boeing Stratocruiser G-AKGJ "RMA Cambria" at Manchester in June 1954 en route to New York
BOAC Britannia 312 landing at Manchester on a transatlantic flight in 1959
BOAC Britannia 312 landing at Manchester on a transatlantic flight in 1959
London Heathrow Airport in 1965. Nearest the camera are two BOAC aircraft – a Vickers VC10 (with the high tail) and a Boeing 707.
London Heathrow Airport in 1965. Nearest the camera are two BOAC aircraft – a Vickers VC10 (with the high tail) and a Boeing 707.

Dates above are for service with BOAC or its forerunners;[16] those still in service in 1974 subsequently passed to British Airways.

Incidents and accidents

1940s

1950s

1960s

1970s

Non-fatal accidents

1940s

1950s

1960s

In popular culture

The Beatles song "Back in the U.S.S.R." references a flight from Miami Beach aboard a BOAC aircraft.[72][73]

In the song Montego Bay by Bobby Bloom, the first line is Vernon will meet me when the BOAC lands.

It is referenced in the James Tiptree Jr. story "The Last Flight of Dr. Ain."[74]

Multiple references throughout the Netflix TV Series The Crown.[75]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b "World Airline Directory", Flight International, p. 530, 28 September 1967, archived from the original on 11 March 2012, retrieved 14 December 2009
  2. ^ "imperial airways - 1946 - 1325 - Flight Archive". Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  3. ^ "southern africa - albert hall - jack savage - 1945 - 1929 - Flight Archive". Archived from the original on 9 July 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  4. ^ Jackson, 1990, p. 379.
  5. ^ Scholefield 1998, p. 86
  6. ^ "BOAC's New Chairman" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
  7. ^ "Brickbats at BOAC". Time. 24 March 1967. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 9 January 2007.
  8. ^ Higham, Robin (2013). Speedbird: The Complete History of BOAC. London: IB Tauris. p. 117.
  9. ^ "Cambrian Airways – The Welsh Dragon: New routes and turboprops". Airliner World. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. September 2012. p. 71.
  10. ^ "Enter the CAA", Flight International, p. 439, 30 March 1972, archived from the original on 25 December 2014, retrieved 16 August 2012
  11. ^ Qantas Expansion Australian Transport September 1968 page 43
  12. ^ "Towards a British Aeroflot" Archived 25 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine Flight International 12 March 1970.
  13. ^ "boac routes". 31 December 2010. Archived from the original on 15 December 2021. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  14. ^ "1950 - British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Timetables, Route Maps and History". Archived from the original on 8 January 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  15. ^ "BOAC - British Overseas Airways Corporation". Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  16. ^ Robin Higham, Speedbird: The Complete History of BOAC (London: IB Tauris, 2013) p.391-426
  17. ^ Accident description for G-AKFD at the Aviation Safety Network
  18. ^ Accident description for G-ADSZ at the Aviation Safety Network
  19. ^ "Ensign Class". Flight. No. 15 February 1957. pp. 203–07. (p203 Archived 11 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, p204 Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p205 Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p206 Archived 11 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine).
  20. ^ "Liberator Mk.I AM915, Arinarach Hill, Kintyre". Peak District Air Accident Research. 3 August 2016. Archived from the original on 24 November 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  21. ^ Accident description for G-ADUX at the Aviation Safety Network
  22. ^ Accident description for G-AETZ at the Aviation Safety Network
  23. ^ Accident description for G-AEUF at the Aviation Safety Network
  24. ^ Accident description for G-AFCZ at the Aviation Safety Network
  25. ^ Accident description for G-AFCK at the Aviation Safety Network
  26. ^ Accident description for G-AFYE at the Aviation Safety Network
  27. ^ Accident description for G-AGDA at the Aviation Safety Network
  28. ^ Criminal description for G-AGEJ at the Aviation Safety Network
  29. ^ Goss, Christopher H. (2001). Bloody Biscay: The History of V Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 40. Manchester: Crécy Publishing. pp. 50–56. ISBN 978-0-947554-87-3.
  30. ^ N/461. "Howard & Churchill". Archived from the original on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 2 December 2006.
  31. ^ Accident description for FK459 at the Aviation Safety Network
  32. ^ Accident description for FK618 at the Aviation Safety Network
  33. ^ Accident description for G-AGES at the Aviation Safety Network
  34. ^ a b c d e f "BOAC Special". Aeroplane. No. April 2015. Stamford: Key Publishing. pp. 26–49. ISSN 0143-7240.
  35. ^ Accident description for G-AGIB at the Aviation Safety Network
  36. ^ Accident description for G-AGDE at the Aviation Safety Network
  37. ^ Accident description for G-AGIH at the Aviation Safety Network
  38. ^ Accident description for G-AGBW at the Aviation Safety Network
  39. ^ Accident description for G-AGEM at the Aviation Safety Network
  40. ^ Accident description for G-AGLX at the Aviation Safety Network
  41. ^ Accident description for G-AGHT at the Aviation Safety Network
  42. ^ Accident description for G-AGMF at the Aviation Safety Network
  43. ^ Accident description for G-AGNR at the Aviation Safety Network
  44. ^ Accident description for G-AHZB at the Aviation Safety Network
  45. ^ Accident description for G-AGHW at the Aviation Safety Network
  46. ^ Accident description for G-AGKN at the Aviation Safety Network
  47. ^ ASN Aircraft accident Short S.23 Empire Flying Boat Mk I G-AEUH Timor, archived from the original on 14 June 2020, retrieved 14 December 2019
  48. ^ "Crash of a Handley Page H.P.81 Hermes IV near Atar: 1 killed". Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. Archived from the original on 24 September 2019. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  49. ^ Simons, Graham (14 November 2013). Comet! The World's First Jet Airliner. ISBN 978-1781592793.
  50. ^ Accident description for G-ALYV at the Aviation Safety Network
  51. ^ Accident description for G-ALSA at the Aviation Safety Network
  52. ^ Accident description for G-ALHL at the Aviation Safety Network
  53. ^ "Special Report: British Overseas Airline Company Flight 712". airdisaster.com. Archived from the original on 17 April 2008. Retrieved 9 January 2008.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  54. ^ "A government hijacking". Flight International. 29 July 1971. p. 150. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  55. ^ "Theme of Movie Blamed For Inspiring Bomb Hoax". The Victoria Advocate. 4 August 1971. Archived from the original on 15 December 2021. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  56. ^ Accident description for G-ACJJ at the Aviation Safety Network
  57. ^ Accident description for G-AFDL at the Aviation Safety Network
  58. ^ Criminal description for G-AGBI at the Aviation Safety Network
  59. ^ Accident description for G-ADTC at the Aviation Safety Network
  60. ^ Criminal description for G-AFDI at the Aviation Safety Network
  61. ^ Accident description for G-AFCX at the Aviation Safety Network
  62. ^ Accident description for G-AGDF at the Aviation Safety Network
  63. ^ Accident description for G-AFDK at the Aviation Safety Network
  64. ^ Accident description for G-AGFZ at the Aviation Safety Network
  65. ^ Accident description for G-AGLI at the Aviation Safety Network
  66. ^ Accident description for G-ALYZ at the Aviation Safety Network
  67. ^ Accident description for G-ALYR at the Aviation Safety Network
  68. ^ Accident description for G-APDS at the Aviation Safety Network
  69. ^ Accident description for G-APDB at the Aviation Safety Network
  70. ^ Accident description for G-APFN at the Aviation Safety Network
  71. ^ Accident description for G-APDN at the Aviation Safety Network
  72. ^ Aldridge, Alan, ed. (1990). The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin / Seymour Lawrence. ISBN 978-0-395-59426-1.
  73. ^ Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-0-8050-5249-7.
  74. ^ Tiptree Jr., James (25 July 2017). "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain". Lightspeed. Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021.
  75. ^ Hurst, Adriene. "One of Us Creates a Crowning Glory for 'The Crown'". Digital Media World. Archived from the original on 14 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2021.

Bibliography