An air ferry is a ferry service in which cars and passengers are transported by aircraft. Use of air ferries peaked in the 1950s, but the advent of more economical alternative modes of transport in the 1960s resulted in the demise of these services. Today a large part of cross-channel car transport is done through the Channel Tunnel.
The air ferry service was inaugurated by retired Royal Air Force officer Air Commodore Griffith J. ("Taffy") Powell, who founded an airline company called Silver City in 1948. Using Bristol Freighter aeroplanes, the service operated until 1954 from Lympne airfield, and later from Lydd airport. Other companies and routes opened across the English Channel. The ultimate air ferry aeroplane was the Aviation Traders Carvair, a conversion of the Douglas DC-4.
Air ferries were popular during the 1950s, when they were significantly faster and not much more expensive than the sea ferries. They ceased to be economically viable in the 1960s with the introduction of faster and more reliable roll-on/roll-off ferries, plus hovercraft on a few routes.
Airlines that offered air ferry services involving the British Isles
All the airlines below are defunct except Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus no longer offers transport of cars.
- Aer Lingus
- Air Ferry
- British United Air Ferries (later British Air Ferries and British World Airlines)
- Channel Air Bridge (merged with Silver City Airways forming British United Air Ferries)
- Silver City Airways (merged with Channel Air Bridge forming British United Air Ferries)
A notable fictional appearance is the James Bond book Goldfinger and the film of the same name. In the book Auric Goldfinger and his car fly from Ferryfield to Le Touquet on a Bristol Freighter. In the film this is changed so that Goldfinger travels on an Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair, operated by British United Air Ferries, from Southend Airport to Geneva.