Wales is a nation of over 3 million people but despite that since the mid-70s has never had a particularly successful home-based airline (whereas Scotland has at least got Loganair). That's not say there haven't been multiple attempts. Cambrian Airways began services in 1935 and lasted until its merger into British Airways in 1974. Since then there have been multiple other attempts to run a Welsh airline including two named Air Wales (the first from August 1977-July 1979 and the second from 2000-2006). These were both primarily scheduled operators flying domestic services with small turboprops, however the earlier Cambrian flew both scheduled and charter services using a wide variety of equipment, including Vickers Viscounts and BAC One-Elevens.
The increasing activity in the charter scene in the early 1980s led to a slew of new UK charter airlines such as Orion Airways, Inter European, Paramount and others to challenge the larger players like Dan Air, Britannia and Air Europe. Many of these airlines were owned by the holiday companies themselves who thought they could get better service and greater control over their inclusive tour products if they owned their own airline. Red Dragon Travel was a successful Welsh travel company and decided to start its own airline - to be known as Airways International Cymru.
Cymru is the name for Wales in the Welsh language and although something of a mouthful is nothing compared to many other Welsh words! I've always thought that the airline's name sounded somewhat grandiose for what was in effect a small charter airline of limited means and it is hard to see any routes they could have served that would not have been international.
The airline's homebase was Cardiff and during the first summer season G-YMRU was joined by G-AXMU, a BAC One-eleven 432FD leased from British Island Airways. For the following season Cymru replaced the BIA aircraft with a second ex-Quebecair 304AX. This aircraft was also 1967 vintage and sistership to G-YMRU. She also gained a fittingly Welsh registration, becoming G-WLAD (WLAD means Country in Welsh).
Expansion continued into the 1985 season with slightly more modern equipment being acquired in the form of a 1974 vintage Boeing 737-204 leased from Guinness Peat Aviation. She was formerly G-BAZI with Britannia and was delivered in a smart and unusually business like (for a charter airline) livery. Airways International Cymru's route network had by this time expanded outside of Cardiff alone and services were flown also from various English destinations such as Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Exeter, London Gatwick and Southend.
During the winter season the fleet was leased out to other operators with the One-Eleven G-WLAD flying for both British Midland (Nov 1985-May 1986) and Manx (May 1986-December 1987). The 737-204 went further afield and operated in New Zealand from November 1985. In the 1986 winter season she stayed closer to home and served with Aer Lingus.
In fact G-WLAD never returned to the Cymru fleet as she was replaced in service with the first new Boeing 737-300, which arrived in May 1986 as G-PROC. This aircraft was leased from ILFC but was only ten months old at the time having been delivered new to Sunworld International Airways. This airframe wore the smart Sunworld livery and served for only one season before she joined Piedmont as N397P 'City of Greenville'.
The airline was obviously happy with the 737-300s and for the 1987 season set out to acquire another pair on lease. Both aircraft were acquired on long-term six year leases and at the time the carrier's fortunes were on the up as it had a 2 million pound capital injection from Brian proctor who with a 25% share became the new chairman. Looking to the future the carrier began to dream of larger 737-400s, ruling out the operation of MD-80s due to a lack of suitable local engineering facilities. It was also keen on beginning scheduled services to traditional charter destinations in the Med. At the same time the new leadership was looking for a name change as they realised that Cymru was a mouthful for english speakers. I assume for this reason both the new 737-300s were painted in the airline's standard livery but did not receive the tail logo.
Both 737s were series 3Q8s leased from ILFC. G-BNCT arrived on April 24, 1987 direct from Boeing whilst G-PROK joined in June 1987 after short service with America West. As was the company's practice the close of the summer season saw sub-leases sought for both the 737s but unfortunately this was to be the undoing of the airline. One of the 737s was leased to the startup SunCoast Airlines, however difficulties with the contract, aircraft permits and a failure to pay the lease put Airways International Cymru into financial difficulty. Cymru attempted to repossess the aircraft but was unsuccessful and SunCoast filed for Chapter 11. This successfully caused the failure of Airways International Cymru. Cymru filed for bankruptcy in January 1988 and its aircraft were repossessed.
Airways International Cymru was always an airline operating on a shoestring, as can be seen by its failure due to only one aircraft leasing agreement not working out, however it had begun to find a useful niche and flew the flag of Wales proudly. Its small fleet was dispersed quickly to other operators. G-BNCT went to Air Europa, whilst G-PROK joined the Spanish charter airline UniversAir (and later America West). A home was even found for the first One-Eleven and G-YMRU joined Dan Air in April 1988 as G-BPNX.
As I understand it from the ashes of Airways International Cymru another short-lived charter carrier emerged. This was to be called Diamond Air but opposition from British Midland to the use of the word diamond saw it renamed Amber Airways (although the livery still featured a diamond). Amber Airways took up G-BAZI but re-registered her as G-BOSA and began operations in April 1988.
They lasted only 6 months, and expanded their fleet to two 737-200s, but rather than going bankrupt they were bought out by another British charter airline - Paramount Airways. This MD-80 operator needed to purchase Amber Airways as it had an agreement with MDD around only operating the MD-80s but apparently favoured 737s instead. The Exxtor Group who owned Amber (as well as Aurigny Air Services and Guernsey Airlines) had already come to the conclusion after only one season that they needed to:
"be much larger to make the necessary penetration into the market to bring the risk/reward ratio into balance".
The same thing could have been said for Paramount itself, which went into administration in late 1989 with debts of 11 million GBP, whilst its chairman was also under investigation by the serious fraud office after the disapperance of GBP13.5 million. So ended any embers of Cyrmu dragon flame and three more entrants in the battle for the Uk charter market.
United Kingdom BAC One-Eleven Operators. www.bac1-11jet.co.uk
Airways International Cymru. Wikipedia
Airways International Cymru. RZJets.net
1987. Expanding Cymru to change image. FlightGlobal
SunCoast Airlines. The Sun Sentinel
1988. Paramount buys Amber. FlightGlobal
1989. Paramount buyout considered. FlightGlobal
18/11/2017 01:30:07 pm
Great story which makes interesting reading. I always felt that the only reason we got an Airways Cymru One-Eleven, because it was an easy pad printer change from the Quebecair scheme. Otherwise this wouldn't have been made for sure.
5/2/2018 04:10:53 pm
5/2/2018 06:33:09 pm
Great memories. Go for it
27/11/2018 02:25:04 pm
I worked for Proctor's steel coil coating line in Newport for years (late 90's until the early part of this decade), that was run on a shoestring too with dilapitated, rat-infested buildings, outdated and decaying machinery and a general disregard for both environmental and H&S laws, despite him being loaded. I can remember there being Air Cymru flight lockers being used as storage in the Engineering workshop, and also hearing a story about one of his planes being impounded by the authorities for non-payment of taxes, so Proctor and one of his pilots went out to quite literally steal it back by flying it out of there.
21/4/2020 04:44:10 pm
I remember flying out to Faro from Bristol on one of the 1-11s when the airline went bankrupt and being flown home on a shiny brand new Paramount MD-83.
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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: