Monday, the 18th February 2019, saw BOAC return to London’s Heathrow Airport and begin service to the following day to New York’s JFK Airport.
BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) has not been seen in the skies since 1974 when it merged with BEA (British European Airways) to become British Airways. So why was a BOAC Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet landing at London Heathrow on a dank Monday in February?
The clue is in its flight number the following day for the flight to New York JFK. It operated as BA117 which is a British Airways flight designator. British Airways is the latest incarnation of Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited which in August 1919 launched the world’s first daily international scheduled air service between London and Paris. British Airways celebrates its centenary this year.
February also sees the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 747 back in 1969. What better way to mark the occasion than paint a 747 in the classic and much-loved livery of BOAC? The first scheduled flight in the heritage livery is also significant as it was the first route a Boeing 747 in BOAC colours flew.
1969 was the year I flew BOAC for the first and, as it turned out, the last time. I was still a minor travelling with my parents to West Africa. The aircraft, a VC10, didn’t have the range for the whole journey non-stop so had to refuel in Madrid. I remember standing on the tarmac looking up and admiring the aircraft and its livery. It is an enduring image from the days of air travel before budget airlines in their garish colours.
I am glad to report that the Boeing 747 that British Airways decided to retro-paint to mark their 100th anniversary will be around for a couple of years yet. The BOAC livery will remain on the aircraft until it is retired from service in 2023; four years from now.
The following is a potted history of the airline we know today as British Airways and which celebrates 100 years of history.
On August 25, 1919, British Airways’ forerunner, Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T), launched the world’s first daily international scheduled air service between London and Paris.
In 1924, Britain’s four main fledgeling airlines merged to form Imperial Airways Limited.
By 1925, Imperial Airways was providing services to Paris, Brussels, Basle, Cologne and Zurich. Meanwhile, a number of smaller UK air transport companies had started flights and in 1935, they merged to form the original privately-owned British Airways Limited, which became Imperial Airways’ principal UK competitor on European routes.
Following a Government review, Imperial Airways and British Airways were nationalised in 1939 to form British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). Continental European and domestic flights were flown by a new airline, British European Airways (BEA) from 1946. BOAC introduced services to New York in 1946, Japan in 1948, Chicago in 1954 and the west coast of the United States in 1957. BEA developed a domestic network to various points in the United Kingdom, including Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester.
From 1946 until 1960, BOAC and BEA were the principal British operators of scheduled international passenger and cargo services. The 1950s saw the world enter the passenger jet era – led by BOAC, with the Comet flying to Johannesburg in 1952, halving the previous flight time.
Additional airlines began to pass into BEA’s ownership and in 1967, the Government recommended a holding board be responsible for BOAC and BEA, with the establishment of a second force airline, resulting in British Caledonian being born in 1970.
Two years later, the businesses of BOAC and BEA were combined under the newly formed British Airways Board, with the separate airlines coming together as British Airways in 1974.
In July 1979, the Government announced its intention to sell shares in British Airways and in February 1987 British Airways was privatised.
The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that there was a previous British Airways in the current BA’s lineage. I hope that one day I will have the opportunity to fly a BOAC liveried aircraft for nostalgia’s sake. Those who wish to catch sight of the aircraft should head to London’s Heathrow Airport.
My thanks to British Airways for the potted history used above and for supplying the photographs used in the post. All photographs (except the monochrome image) are credited: Stuart Bailey www.StuartBaileyPhoto.com. This post is not sponsored by British Airways nor do I have any connection to the airline.