British Caledonian

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
British Caledonian
British caledonian 80s logo.svg
Founded 1970
Ceased operations 1988
(taken over by British Airways)
Hubs London Gatwick Airport
Airport lounge Clansmen Lounge
British Caledonian Aircraft Trading (1974—1987),
British Caledonian Airways Charter (1982—1985),
British Caledonian Flight Training (1985—1987),
British Caledonian Helicopters (1979—1987),
British Caledonian Travel Holdings (1982—1985),
Cal Air International (1985—1987),
Caledonian Airmotive
Caledonian Airways (Charter) (1970—1982),
Caledonian Airways (Leasing) (1970—1974),
Caledonian Equipment Holdings (1970—1974),
Caledonian Far East Airways (1985—1987),
Caledonian Hotel Holdings (1985—1986),
Caledonian Hotel Management (1970—1984),
Caledonian Leisure Holdings (1985—1986)
Fleet size 26 jet aircraft
(5 Boeing 747-200s,
8 McDonnell-Douglas DC-10-30s,
13 BAC One-Eleven 500s)
as of 21 December 1987
Destinations 40+
(British Isles,
Continental Europe,
West Africa,
Southern Africa,
Middle East,
Far East,
North America)
South Africa
as of 21 December 1987
Company slogan Let's go British Caledonian. (1970s)
We never forget you have a choice. (1980s)
Parent company Caledonian Airways Ltd
Caledonian Aviation Group PLC (1982—1985),
British Caledonian Group plc (1986—1987)
Headquarters London Gatwick Airport
Caledonian House, Lowfield Heath, Crawley, West Sussex, UK (1981—1987)
Key people
Sir Adam Thomson,
John de la Haye,
Sir Peter Masefield,
Alastair Pugh,
Capt. P.A. MacKenzie,
David Coltman,
Ian Ritchie,
Trevor Boud,
Leonard N. Bebchick,
Frank A. Hope,
Dennis H. Walter

British Caledonian (BCal) was a private, British independent airline, operating out of Gatwick Airport in the 1970s and 1980s. It came into being in November 1970 when the Scottish charter airline Caledonian Airways, at the time Britain's second-largest, wholly privately owned, independent airline, took over British United Airways (BUA), then the largest British independent airline as well as the United Kingdom's leading independent scheduled carrier. The BUA takeover enabled Caledonian to realise its long-held ambition to transform itself into a scheduled airline. The merged entity eventually became Britain's foremost independent, international scheduled airline.

A series of major setbacks during the 1980s as well as the airline's inability to grow to the minimum size to become a viable "Second Force" as envisaged in the 1969 Edwards report led to increasing financial difficulties during the second half of that decade. This was the time the airline began looking for a merger partner to improve its competitive position. In December 1987, British Airways gained control of the airline.

The 1970s[edit]

1970s logo

During the 1970s, British Caledonian assumed the role of the UK's "Second Force" to counterbalance the near-monopoly of the corporations, which provided 90% of all UK scheduled air transport capacity at the beginning of the decade.[1][2] This entailed expanding the inherited scheduled network to provide effective competition to established rivals on a number of key routes, as well as augmenting the acquired fleet with the latest generation narrow-, widebody and supersonic transport airliners to maintain a competitive edge.[3][4][5]

The rapid expansion of the "Second Force" suffered a temporary setback during the recession following in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. This undermined the financial stability of the "Second Force" during its formative years. It also threatened its survival at that stage.

Following economic revival during that decade's second half, the "Second Force" regained its financial stability, enabling it to expand again and to become profitable.

The 1980s[edit]

Livery of British Caledonian on an Airbus A310-200 ca. 1984

There were many ups and downs for British Caledonian during the 1980s. BCal suffered a series of major setbacks as a result of several geopolitical events that occurred during that decade. These events significantly weakened BCal operationally and financially. They were the main factors that contributed to the airline's demise during the second half of that decade.

Reasons for the failure of British Caledonian[edit]

Aircraft operated[edit]

Fleet details[edit]

BCal and its subsidiaries operated the following fixed wing aircraft types:

British Caledonian BAC One-Eleven 200 at London Gatwick Airport in 1973.
View of the port (left) number 1 & 2 Pratt & Whitney JT3D jet engines of a British Caledonian Boeing 707, June 1975.
British Caledonian Boeing 707-320C, registration G-AXRS, seen at Prestwick Airport ca. 1972. The aircraft operated the inaugural flight between London Gatwick and Houston on 24 October 1977.
A British Caledonian Boeing 747-200M seen at London Gatwick in 1986.
British Caledonian McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 at Manchester on schedule to New York JFK in 1987.
A British Caledonian Boeing 747-200 seen in 1988.

Fleet in 1972[edit]

In May 1972 BCal's fleet comprised 32 jet aircraft.[6]

BCal fleet in May 1972
Aircraft Number
Boeing 707-320C 8
Vickers VC10 1103/9 4
BAC One-Eleven 500 13
BAC One-Eleven 200 7
Total 32

5,300 people were employed.[6]

Fleet in 1975[edit]

In March 1975 BCal's fleet comprised 24 jet aircraft.[7]

BCal fleet in March 1975
Aircraft Number
Boeing 707-320C 11
BAC One-Eleven 500 6
BAC One-Eleven 200 7
Total 24

4,846 people were employed.[7]

Fleet in 1978[edit]

In April 1978 BCal's fleet comprised 29 aircraft.[8]

BCal fleet in April 1978
Aircraft Number
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 2
Boeing 707-320C 9
BAC One-Eleven 500 9
BAC One-Eleven 200 7
Piper PA-31 Navajo Chieftain 2
Total 29

5,500 people were employed.[8]

Fleet in 1981[edit]

In May 1981 BCal's fleet comprised 29 jet aircraft.[9]

BCal fleet in May 1981
Aircraft Number
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 8
Boeing 707-320C 5
BAC One-Eleven 500 9
BAC One-Eleven 200 7
Total 29

6,600 people were employed.[9]

Fleet in 1984[edit]

In March 1984 BCal's mainline fleet comprised 25 jet aircraft.[10]

BCal fleet in March 1984
Aircraft Number
Boeing 747-200B[11] 1
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 8
Airbus A310-200 2
Boeing 707-320C 2
BAC One-Eleven 500 12
Total 25

6,300 people were employed.[10]

Fleet in 1986[edit]

In March 1986 BCal's mainline fleet comprised 27 jet aircraft.[12]

BCal fleet in March 1986
Aircraft Number
Boeing 747-200B 1
Boeing 747-200B Combi 1
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 10
Airbus A310-200 2
BAC One-Eleven 500 13
Total 27

6,750 people were employed.[12]

Incidents and accidents[edit]

BCal had an enviable safety record during its 17-year existence. Its aircraft were never involved in fatal accidents. There were a few noteworthy non-fatal incidents involving the airline's aircraft.

  • On 28 January 1972, a Vickers VC10-1109 (registration: G-ARTA) sustained severe structural damage as a result of an exceptionally hard landing at Gatwick at the end of a short ferry flight from Heathrow, where the aircraft had been diverted due to Gatwick being fog-bound and where all passengers had disembarked. A survey of the aircraft's damage revealed that its airframe had been bent out of shape and that it required extensive repairs to be restored to an airworthy condition. The airline's senior management decided that these repairs were not cost-effective. The aircraft was written off and a decision taken to have it scrapped. It was broken up at Gatwick in 1975.[5][13][14] (This aircraft had been the VC10's prototype. It had subsequently been converted as an 1109 series passenger aircraft before being sold in February 1968 to Laker Airways, who immediately leased it out to Middle East Airlines (MEA). Laker Airways sold on the aircraft to BUA. The handover occurred on 1 April 1969 at the conclusion of the MEA leasing contract.[5][15])
  • On 19 July 1972, a BAC One-Eleven 501EX (registration: G-AWYS) sustained substantial damage as a result of aborting its takeoff too late. Operating the return leg of a non-scheduled passenger flight between the UK and Corfu, the aircraft passed through a pool of standing water close to its decision speed (V1) during the takeoff run at Corfu Airport. This caused a temporary reduction of engine thrust from water ingestion, resulting in a momentary loss of aircraft acceleration. The flight's commander interpreted this as a failure of the plane's no. 1 engine that demanded an immediate rejection of the takeoff. This chain of events was thought to have delayed by about three seconds the flight deck crew's decision to abandon their takeoff. As a result, it was impossible to bring the aircraft to a halt within the remaining runway distance, and after crossing some rough ground, it finally came to rest in a 1 m (3.3 ft)-deep lagoon. None of the 85 occupants (six crew members and 79 passengers) was seriously injured, but an elderly female passenger subsequently died of cardiac arrest on her way to hospital.[16]

Notes and citations[edit]



  • Thomson, Adam (1999). High Risk: The Politics of the Air. London, UK: Sidgwick and Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99599-8. 
  • Eglin, Roger, and Ritchie, Berry (1980). Fly me, I'm Freddie. London, UK: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-77746-7. 
  • Simons, Graham M. (1999). It was nice to fly with friends! The story of Air Europe. Peterborough, UK: GMS Enterprises. ISBN 1-870384-69-5. 
  • Simons, Graham M. (1993). The Spirit of Dan-Air. Peterborough, UK: GMS Enterprises. ISBN 1-870384-20-2. 
  • Calder, Simon (2002). No Frills — The Truth behind the Low-cost Revolution in the Skies. London, UK: Virgin Books. ISBN 1-85227-932-X. 
  • "Aviation News — UK and Irish airlines since 1945 (Update 5 British United Airways)" 66 (3). St. Leonards on Sea, UK: HPC Publishing. March 2004.  (Aviation News online)
  • British Airports Authority Annual Report and Accounts 1977/8. London, UK: British Airports Authority. 
  • British Airports Authority Annual Report and Accounts 1978/9. London, UK: British Airports Authority. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bristow, A., and Malone, P. (2009). Alan Bristow Helicopter Pioneer: The Autobiography (Chapter 17 — Airline Ego Trip, pp. 253/4). Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-208-3. 
  • "Jets Monthly (Airline History — The BCal STORY: "I wish they all could be Caledonian Girls!")". Cudham, UK: Kelsey Publishing Group. November 2011. pp. 40–45.  (Kelsey Publishing Group online)

External links[edit]