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British Airlines of the Past

G-BAAA Lockheed L1011 of Court Line
London Gatwick - February 1974

G-BAAA Lockheed L1011 of Court Line at London Gatwick (LGW) - February 1974 © Caz Caswell 1974

Photographic Copyright Caz Caswell © 1974-2008

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Douglas Holland Writes:
Court Line     G-BAAA     DIH Remembers the day Court Line Died     External Links

Court Line
On the 1st January 1970 Autair (see Autair International Airways Notes in this Album ) became Court Line.
Court Line began its life as a BAC 1-11 400 Series Operator (inherited from Autair) but rapidly moved to the larger BAC 1-11 500 Series, the last 400 Series G-AWBL leaving the Airline on the 11th January 1971 to Cambrian Airways.

Court Line and its associated travel companies are justifiably remembered for four things:
Firstly, it took the already growing Inclusive Tour Holiday market to a new level by pioneering the concept of "cheap and cheerful" package tours to Spain and other "Med" destinations in conjunction with Clarksons Holidays, thus establishing a whole new way of holidaymaking for the British.

Secondly its aircraft liveries designed by Peter Murdoch. The BAC One-Elevens were painted a variety of distinctive eye-catching pastel colours: yellow/gold/orange, pink/rose/magenta, pale violet/mauve/purple, light green/mid-green/forest green, in keeping with the holiday "feel good-factor"
(although these colour schemes would lead to some ribald remarks over Aircraft/Ground Radio Communications).

Third, Aircrew wore trendy uniforms designed by Mary Quant and passengers were made to feel the flight was a fun part of the holiday.

Finally for being the first Operator to bring the Lockheed L1011 onto the British Register. Although Court Line had many of the innovative features removed (e.g. Airstairs and Hold Baggage System) to profile the Aircraft for the high capacity (400Y), low cost market and to save weight to allow the aircraft to serve its target routes (e.g. London Gatwick - St Lucia).

What is often forgotten is that Court Line also owned a Blackburn Beverley. This was purchased in 1973 from the Royal Aeronautical Establishment with military marks XB259 and was planned to be used primarily as a carrier of RB211 Engines in support of the Tristar Operations (Some say they got the idea from the TWA Fairchild Packet operation).

Unfortunately the CAA wouldn't certify the Aircraft, despite being it being initially registered G-AOAI as the Blackburn Company Demonstrator back in 1955.

It arrived in RAE Colours as XB259 and whilst in Court Line ownership was never repainted. Following the collapse of Court Line it departed in the same RAE scheme on its last flight on the 30 March 1974, initially into the ownership of a Brewing Company!

Despite many vicissitudes XB259 still exists as the only Beverley survivor and is on display at Fort Paull

There is one aspect of Court Line's 1-11 Operation which even today causes irritation to those who had to Dispatch/Cater/Cabin Crew them. Let alone bringing a twinge in the knees and the suppressed memory of the slightly stale roll outbound and the missing roll inbound , in the minds of former passengers.
I am referring to the worst passenger configuration ever implemented on the BAC 1-11, the 119Y with Seat Back Catering (normally 114Y was considered the maximum charter configuration for a 1-11 500 Series).
Whilst I understand why Court Line dreamed it up, with such low yields per passenger, seat maximization was vital. However it was a violation of the Human Rights of anyone taller than 5ft 10 inches. Plus it meant that the 'food' was beyond any jokes made about Airline Catering before, or since!

When Court Line took delivery of its Lockheed 1011 Tristars in 1973: G-BAAA (the subject of the above photograph) and
G-BAAB, it was gambling that it could expand into new inclusive tour markets in the USA and Caribbean, thus reducing its dependency on the by now highly competitive Mediterranean Markets.

As with any 'new idea' there were risks, but it was not this decision that brought Court Line down (although it didn't help). Unfortunately for Court Line outside factors were impacting the entire s British Inclusive Tour Market and the Airlines dependent on it. These all came to a head with the geopolitical situation and the subsequent fuel crisis. As the recession deepened, Court Line made desperate attempts to avert disaster. They were by no means alone as all British Independents, whether Schedules, Charter, or a mixture, found themselves on a financial knife edge, a knife edge on which Court Line could not retain its balance.

On 15 August 1974, the company went bankrupt, with all flights canceled and as many as 50,000 holidaymakers stranded overseas with no means of getting home. As a result of this, the Association of British Travel Agents set up a fund to provide an insurance against such an event in future. The following day (16 August 1974) all of the group's UK-based subsidiaries went into voluntary liquidation. This included both Court Line and Clarksons, its associated in-house tour operator. After sitting on the apron at Luton Airport for several months. The L1011 TriStars went to Lockheed before eventually finding a new home with Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways.

G-BAAA Lockheed L-1011 TriStar - The Aircraft in the Picture above.
Delivered new to Court Line on the 28 February 1973, on Court Line's collapse bought by Lockheed and stored at Palmdale. In March 1977 leased to Cathay Pacific as VR-HHV, who November of the same year bought the Aircraft and operated it until July 1996. Still owned by Cathay, the Aircraft was ferried first to Dublin and then to Bournemouth.

Spent five Months at Bournemouth in Storage, until purchased in December 1996 by Equis Finance.

Re-registered EI-CNN with Aer Turas and after Maintenance at Cambridge was sub-leased to T.B.G Airways (Thorne Browne Group) and started an interesting career being wet-leased by T.B.G to Airlines including: Air Malta, Air Inter, Iberia, Virgin Express, Kampuchea Airlines, and Britannia

Returned to Aer Turas in April 1999 and immediately sub-leased to Air Scandic International, who were the last operator to use it in Passenger Service.

In October 1999 the Aircraft reverted to Aer Turas, but was stored at Abu Dhabi. The Aircraft was sold to GP Aerlease in July 2000, but remained in storage.

The Aircraft was allowed to deteriorate for the next five years and the registration was finally canceled in November 2005, but it was not until a year later in November 2006 he Aircraft was finally scrapped.

Douglas Holland Remembers the day Court Line died:
I was on duty when the Court Line Collapse occurred and it was a time of sadness, relief, anger and the start of a long day.

Two Court Line 1-11s were en route to Gatwick when the news broke. First was on final approach before Court Operations were able to Contact them and the Aircraft did an overshoot procedure and then called us to advise their intentions.

The second Aircraft was 30 Minutes out and called to advise it was diverting to Luton at Company request. Both calls although very professional were very poignant as they signalled the end of a relatively short, but exciting time in British Civil Aviation.

Attempts to contact the Court Line Station Manager to assist British Caledonian Passenger Services with handling the Passengers who's flights were now canceled were all to no avail as he, the Company Car and the Station Cash Box had disappeared never to seen again. This left just two duty Court Line Staff, the Traffic Duty Officer and one Ground Hostess to assist the BCAL Passenger Services and BAA Staff to deal with the angry and upset passengers arriving for flights that would never depart . The Court Line Station Manager's abandonment of his people and his duty still angers me over a quarter of a century later.

There was also a guilty sense of relief as the demise of Court Line might help ensure our own survival as an airline (and indeed our Gatwick based Airlines), despite being owed a large amount of handling fees.

At the same time a huge sense of sadness for the Court Line Staff, not just the Airline, but the Shipyard, Travel Companies, Maritime and other interests, tempered with the sense that it could so easily have been us (and at the time we all thought, could we be next, especially when we realized how much Court Lined owed BCAL).

Surprisingly not only did two of the overseas Airline Subsidiary Companies did 'bounce back' Leeward Island Air Transport and Court Line Helicopters South Africa. but also Appledore Shipyard in Devon Survived.

External Links

Court Line - Wikipedia Entry

Lockheed L-1011 - Wikipedia Entry

Beverley Association

PPRuNE

Note: Opinions and any errors are all mine, not Caz Caswell's

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