In 1965 Court Line, a shipping company, took 100% control of the company and it gradually grew, helped massively by the addition of new BAC One-Elevens from 1968, which were used almost exclusively on IT charters (whilst the props operated scheduled routes).G-AVOE, below, was sold in 1970 to Cambrian Airways. Subsequently she joined the British Airways fleet when Cambrian was merged into them and during the 1980s saw service with British Air Ferries and Dan Air prior to sale to the USA in mid 1984 as N390BA for Britt Air. Sold again in Sept 1987 she went to Nigeria for Okada Air as 5N-AYS and was retired in 1997.
By 1969 5 One-elevens helped carry over 500,000 passengers on charters whilst scheduled services only served 66,000 passengers. However that year the airline pulled out of all scheduled flying after failing to get subsidies, as only the Heathrow-Teeside route was profitable. From then on it was charters all the way. To help 7 larger One-eleven 500s were ordered
On 1st Jan 1970 Autair became Court Line Aviation and its new livery was an eye-catching selection of two shade pastel combinations. As the larger series 500s arrived the short One-elevens were gradually sold off. G-AWBL, above, was the fourth of five short One-Elevens delivered to Autair. BL also went to Cambrian, in 1971, and became ‘City of Leicestershire’ with British Airways. Transferred to Birmingham European in January 1990 she passed through the ownership changes and merger/de-merger with Brymon to be in Maersk Air’s fleet, in BA colours, until her sale in July 1996 to Nationwide of South Africa as ZS-NYZ. She was stored and broken up in 2006.
By 1973, Clarksons carried 1.1 million holidaymakers — almost 1968's whole industry total — and contracted over 70% of Court Line's charter capacity. Competition in the new arena of IT charters was fierce and Court undercut rivals and operated a Volume model of business. For the first time foreign holidays to sunny med destinations were affordable to average people.
The airline also pioneered seat-back catering (basically a packed lunch in a back of seat compartment) which enabled it to remove galleys and increase seating densities even further.
In 1973 Court line reached its zenith when the first of its new widebody Tristars arrived (it was the first European operator of the type). The Tristars were modified for Court with double-width doors, integral passenger airstairs and baggage conveyors. They represented a massive capacity expansion for the airline and cost it over $55 million. This gamble was huge and came at a bad time. Following Court service G-BAAA, below, became VR-HHV with Cathay Pacific from March 1977 until January 1997 when she was sold to Aer Turas as EI-CNN. With them she operated leases for Iberia, Kampuchea Airlines and Air Scandic before being stored in November 1999.
Court Line's primary customer, Clarksons, had been losing money - in 1971 it lost GBP2.6 million on a turnover of GBP31 million. In 1972 its losses increased dramatically and yet by 1973 Clarksons was 40% of Court Line's business. Court Line was forced to act and tookover Clarksons for a nominal one pound.
1974 was the worst year in the charter business history. The Oil crisis had caused the cost of fuel to triple and the UK economy to tank with a 3 day working week and miners strikes. Horizon holidays, one of Court's other major customers folded, and Court was again forced to buy it out. Legal disputes with BCal and Thomas Cook's money back guarantee made the Horizon purchase even less palatable than it appeared at the time of purchase.
The airline's furture was bleak yet it continued to sell holidays at below cost in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. An attempt to sell Court's shipyard holdings for GBP60 came too late and the end came on 15th August 1974 stranding 49,000 passengers overseas. They got home thanks to a massive airlift and the shock of the collapse led to ABTA setting up a compulsary bonding scheme so in the event of an airline's failure its customers would be protected in the future.
Of the fleet the two Tristar's were sold to Cathay Pacific and most of the nine One-elevens spread amongst Dan Air and Monarch. Series 500 G-AXMF ‘Halcyon Breeze’, above in pink, was leased to Transbrasil as PT-TYV and after four years was delivered to Austral as LV-MEX. Operated briefly by Air Patagonia in 1995 she returned to England with European Airlines as VR-BED and then G-IIIH. She was eventually broken up Bournemouth in April 2001.
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: