It wasn't until July 18, 1953 that Derby Aviation graduated from being mainly a training school and occasional charter business to operating scheduled services from its Derby Burnaston base to Jersey using Dragon Rapides. By 1955 4 Rapides were in service and a single C-47 Dakota was added in May of that year followed by 2 20 seat Miles Marathons in 1956. The next year a second C-47 arrived to operate the new Glasgow schedule.
In 1959 the name was changed to Derby Airways to reflect the expanded operations which by then included services from Luton to Jersey and via Derby to Dublin. Summertime charters were flown from locations such as Northampton and Cambridge across the channel also. The Daks and Marathons could fly from Derby's grass strip but it was clear that a proper strip would be needed by new equipment. Fortunately the new East Midlands Airport began construction though it would be six years before it opened. In the meantime the Dakota fleet expanded to six aircraft and the Marathons were retired.
Five ex-BOAC Canadair C-4 Argonauts were purchased in October 1961 from the recently defunct Gatwick based Overseas Aviation. Two were used for spares and three put into service however the type had high operating and maintenance costs and its operations were largely restricted to Birmingham due to Derby's limited facilities. Aeroclassics recently graced us with a lovely example in the later Derby colours:
The Argonauts lasted until about 1969. G-ALHS, above, had originally been delivered to BOAC in 1949 and named 'Astra'. She was sold in 1969 to Chartwell Aviation who wanted to export her to the Biafran government. This was stopped by HM Customs however and instead she was broken up in 1970.
In order to acquire increased capital and grow the airline approached Minster Assets which already owned Invicta Airlines. The two airlines were merged and in March Michael Bishop (formerly of Mercury) was promoted to the board. In November 1969 Midland got access to Heathrow for the first time (and this access is probably what allowed them to last until 2012) when it tookover Autair's London to Teeside route. The new capital also allowed the airline to order a pair of new BAC One-Eleven 500s. By 1970 the fleet was solidly focused on the Viscount with 11 in service.
The first One-Eleven arrived in January 1970 and allowed the remaining series 700 Viscounts to be withdrawn by March. The One-Elevens were focused primarily on the Teeside route and Inclusive Tour charters however the latter was an ultra-competitive market and the airline lost GBP1.67 million in 1971. This loss had been worsened by the purchase of a 186 seat ex-Pan Am 707 used for transatlantic charters to New York, Toronto and the Caribbean. Soon after in 1972 Michael Bishop became MD. He refocused the airline for short-haul European and Domestic ops and started a lucrative wet-lease business using 707s which lasted until 1984. Up to 6 were used but rarely appeared in BMA colours. Aeroclassics has released a lovely example:
The One-Elevens were sold on as quickly as possible and replaced by more of the trusty and reliable Viscounts. In fact the airline acquired the entire South African Airways fleet of seven for only GBP135,000 and all were in service by mid-1972. Several others were also added for a fleet of 12 by the end of 1973 whilst a pair of Heralds arrived from Brazil in part exchange for a One-Eleven.
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: