The Bahamas is an archipelago state consisting of over 700 islands spread across the sea to the East of and between Florida and Cuba. It became a British colony in 1718 and during the first half of the Nineteenth century large numbers of freed slaves were resettled or escaped to the islands after slavery was abolished in the Empire in 1834. Even today the majority of the island's population is descended from these routes. As you'd expect being close to both Florida and having many islands of its own air travel was a useful tool for the colony and accordingly Bahamas Airways Limited (BAL) was formed in 1936 to takeover the operation of a three year old company called Inter-island Charter Services.
The Bahamas was a growing hub for tourism and financial services but BAL faced extensive competition from Pan Am, amongst others, and was not profitable. BOAC tried selling off the airline in April 1959 when Skyways Bahamas Holding Co Ltd took a 80% share. This company was a subsidiary of the British independent airline Skyways, which promptly transferred a pair of Handley Page Hermes over to the airline.
The Hermes were modified to make them more suitable to the new routes by removing pressurisation equipment, thus enabling a capacity increase to 78 passengers in a more comfortable layout. The airline advertised their 'luxurious deep cushioned seats' and 'giant panoramic windows' but unfortunately American passengers were not keen on flying this unusual aircraft type and competition from Pan Am took a heavy toll on the airline. Unable to make headway Skyways sold its share back to BOAC in December 1960.
BOAC, perhaps reluctantly, took up the competitive mantle and replaced the Hermes with second-hand Vickers Viscounts. The first pair were acquired through BOAC Associated Company's fleet. BOAC Associated Company was the subsidiary organisation of BOAC that managed shareholdings in airlines like Bahamas Airways. The Viscounts were both 1955 build series 702s that had formerly served with BWIA and Kuwait Airways. The Viscounts carried on the NW flying bird logo that the Hermes appear to have worn and was conservatively applied over BOAC's standard scheme. Later the 'NW flying bird' logo became much larger on the tail.
The Viscounts at least enabled BAL to compete but still failed to create profitability. In 1961 on the all important Florida routes Bahamas Airways flew 18,000 passengers, however the competition flew 120,000 (made up of 60,000 with Pan Am, 30,000 Mackey and 30,000 Cunard Eagle). Freeport on Grand Bahamas was at the time being setup as a customs-free industrial hub and attracting companies like US Steel Corporation, but on many routes BAL was still using DC-3s. Unfortunately attempts to lease 4 ex-AVENSA Fairchild F-27s were ultimately unsuccessful and the 7 DC-3s continued in service (5 owned and 2 wet leased). Two of the airline's three Grumman Gooses were sold by 1962 as they proved costly to operate and maintenance intensive due to corrosion.
Instead of F-27s the Viscount fleet gradually expanded in the mid-60s to include 4 series 702s and a pair of series 707s, the latter both formerly Aer Lingus and British Eagle machines. As well as competition on the international routes BAL also had to operate in challenging conditions on the inter-island operations. In 1962 only 8 of 23 'Out Island' strips had lighting, which restricted revenue earning hours to about ten a day. Accordingly fleet utilisation was low, about 1,000 hours per year. This wasn't due only to the basic airfield conditions but also due to the airline's inability to fully support the engineering of the Viscount fleet.
1964 was an important year for the Bahamas, and therefore also for BAL. The islands gained 'internal autonomy' on January 7 and increasingly the Bahamian government's alignment with BOAC's vision for BAL diverged. The creation of International Air Bahamas illustrated the rift between BOAC and the government. The former felt that BAL was not being supported whilst the latter felt aggrieved that BOAC had not extended its long-haul services to the Bahamas.
Nonetheless BOAC continued to support BAL even though it was still yet to ever make a profit. A quartet of HS-748s were ordered to replace the Viscounts and they began to arrive in 1966, wearing a more BOAC like livery with Speedbird on the tail. BOAC's patience with the airline was however coming to a close and by 1968, following a dispute between BAL staff and BOAC over pay, it was again looking for a way out. Unfortunately even though it found one it did not secure the future of the airline for a substantial period of time. What it did do however was allow the rebirth of the fleet and BAL's image. We will look at Bahamas Airways future independent of British influence in part 2.
For part 2 see Bahamas Airways Pt2: Swire's Flamingo
1962, May. Airline Profile: Bahamas Airways. Flight International
Evanich III, J.E. Lost Schemes: #52 Bahamas Airways One-Eleven 517 (1968-1970). Airlinercafe
Lowson, A. 2011, May. Bluegrass Airlines Feature of the Month: Bahamas Airways ‘59. Bluegrassairlines.com
Mexico & Caribbean One-Eleven operators. BAC1-11jet.co.uk
Bahamas Airways. Aerobernie
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: