Channel Airways was a pioneer of cheap low-cost air travel in the UK. It became famous for its thriftiness and high density seating. Along with older aircraft and an intensive schedule these factors helped Channel achieve its aims of making travel no more expensive than by boat. The airline even went so far as to not bother repainting its aircraft fully and in the mid-60s effectively stole the livery of Continental Airlines whom it had purchased second-hand Viscounts from!
Channel Airways officially came into existence in October 1962 when East Anglian Flying Services was renamed. The latter had existed since August 1946 - formed by ex-RAF squadron leader Reginald "Jack" Jones. It signed an associate agreement with BEA by 1948 enabling it to connect its homebase, Southend, with Rochester on a scheduled service. The operator also undertook aerial joyrides and from 1948 IT charter services to Ostend. In 1949 the airline gained the scheduled Southend-Jersery run with the fleet primarily made up of Dragon Rapides as well as smaller types. The airline was effectively shutdown in 1951 due to Government restrictions on overseas travel and exchange controls which caused a huge contraction of travel.
East Anglia Flying Services restarted scheduled operations in 1953 and added 5 de Havilland Doves and a pair of Bristol Freighters. By 1954 it was operating as Channel Airways even though that wasn't its official moniker. It wasn't until 1958 that the first pair of Vickers Vikings arrived and by that time the carrier was flying over 30,000 passengers annually, though it still effectively shutdown operations during the winter. In 1960 a pair of DC-3s were added, followed by a DC-4, and the airline was flying from three bases at Southend, Ipswich and Rochester to Paris, Rotterdam, Ostend and the Channel Islands. Over 100,000 passengers were flown that year. Growth continued into 1962 when the airline took over an insolvent competitor, Tradair, which operated 7 Vikings and a Viscount 700.
1963 was the year that Channel began to expand into IT charters in a big way whilst a the same time it was able to begin to bring its fleet up to almost modern standards with the purchase of 9 Viscount 700s - mainly ex-BEA aircraft. These allowed the Vikings to be retired and were more suitable for the airline's new Mediterranean destinations.
In 1966 the airline purchased 11 Viscount 800s from Continental. Channel was always a thrifty airline and decided to keep most of the Continental Golden Jet colour scheme even applying it to its new One-Elevens and Tridents. In fairness they had adopted a golden livery slightly earlier but the ultimate scheme was effectively the Continental scheme with different titles! The one major addition they made was a new Golden Eagle logo in an oval placed on the nose from July 1967 onwards. The 800s allowed Channel to replace smaller series 700s and characteristically Channel was able to increase the V800s seating capacity to 82 seats. During the winter months Channel was quite successful at leasing the Viscounts out as its own schedule dwindled.
G-APPC had been N250V originally delivered in September 1958. Channel also had a reputation for flying in poor weather and within a year two of the Viscounts (G-APPU and AVJZ) were written off. APPC didn’t last much longer being retired from service only just over a year after delivery. Most of the Viscounts were retired by mid 1970 replaced by jets. APPC was stored at Southend and not finally broken up until June 1972.
G-AVHK had been N246V originally delivered in August 1958. In 1969 a ‘Scottish Flyer’ bus-stop style service was begun between Southend and Aberdeen, with six four- to five-minute long, engine-running intermediate stops, but it only lasted until November. The Viscounts were gradually replaced on IT routes by jets and HK was withdrawn at Southend and broken up in 1972.
By 1966 Channel Airways was one of the biggest and most successful independent airlines in the UK and between 1965 and 1968 recorded annual profits in excess of £500,000. This enabled the airline to plan for growth and the obvious direction was into pure jet operations. In part 2 we'll look at Channel's expansion in this direction.
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: